San Diego Mission

When land and ship expeditions arrived at San Diego a real experience in the great colonizing schemes was encountered. The men were in bad condition from poor food and water, thirty or more had died. The Indians had turned from friendliness to hostility and thieving. But zeal and energy were irresistible. On July r6 the cross was erected; in a temporary shelter of branches and reeds, in the presence of soldiers and sailors, mass was celebrated by Serra, and the bell was rung from the branch of a tree. All sung “Veni Creator”; the. standard of royalty was planted and given to the winds, the water of the San Diego River running by the locality was blessed, firearms were discharged for the want of music, and the “smoke of powder was incense”; and so the ceremony of founding a mission was performed, and the land was claimed for God and the King of Spain, while the poor Indian, dazed at the wonderful doings, stood helpless, while his hunting grounds and his personal liberty were taken from him without his consent, and without compensation. This was followed by the founding of a Mission. The location is in the San Diego canon, which runs from the south extension of the Santa Ana Range to the sea, a distance of sixty miles due east and west; the Mission is about ten miles from its mouth. The cannon is enclosed the entire length by lines of high, and precipitous bluffs;. the bed is nearly a flat surface of one-half to three miles in width, watered by the river. From the neighboring mountains came the wild Indians who murdered Father Jayme. There is a grand and awe-inspiring view from the spot where the cross of the Redeemer was first raised, with its face to the ocean and its rear to the mountains in California. It is two miles north of the old town, and four miles from the new town on the bay. These old fathers knew almost by inspiration how to select the best Mission sites, elevated on high tablelands, surrounded by large areas of fruitful soil, abundance of pasture, valleys well watered by nature’s irrigation canals, and with the Mission zanjas to complete the system. Wherever practicable, the Missions were in view of the ocean, but always beyond the reach of the hostile guns of passing rovers sailing under a free flag. For the coast line was not well protected by the international police in those days.

About the middle of August the Indians made an attack on Serra and his assistants. They killed one Jose Maria, but were quickly repelled by the soldiers of the Mission. Subsequently they brought in their wounded to be cared for, and were won to amity and conversion by the kindness of Serra.

In October 1775, the wild Indians from the mountains east of the Mission, to the number of one thousand or more, attacked the settlement; they burned the buildings, robbed the church, and murdered Padre Jayme and two others. Again the kindness and forbearance of Serra prevailed against the spirit of vengeance inflaming the hearts of the viceroy and soldiers. He received orders to rebuild the Mission, and it was protected by a stronger garrison: Captain Rivera ordered twelve more soldiers to protect the workmen. The Mission Indians proved not to be of much account in fighting the wild Indians. Evidently the influence of Serra had weakened them for aggressive purposes.

The new buildings were dedicated November 12, 1777, but improvements were going on for a series of years, and the establishment became, next to San Luis Rey, the leading Mission. Its old palms, germinated one hundred and thirty-six years ago, still stand in full vigor, waving their long, graceful branches and leaves aloft in the gentle winds from mountain and sea. They stand as silent sentinels, who have beheld very many deeds of good and evil, misery and happiness; but they unburden their memories to none.

The principal building is about one hundred feet in length, from north to south. It stands upon a broad mesa, fifty miles from the mountains, and ten miles from the ocean; its main entrance faces the south line of bluffs. Its walls of adobe are four feet thick at the foundation, and its windows and doorways are lined with burnt tiles. The architecture is Moorish, which is a blending of the various styles of many tribes of Northern Africa, modified by Spanish art. The main entrance was at the southern extremity.

All the Missions of California were constructed after the Moorish style in general, but differing often in ground plans. The long, arched porch, sheltering the inmates from the noonday sun, and for resort in the cool evenings, was everywhere an important feature of the Mission. Fine and well-cultivated gardens and shaded walks were indispensable, as were also the orchards with their luxuriant fruits. The quarters of the Indians were in some convenient place contiguous to the Mission, a walled-in space of sufficient area to give comfortable homes to all the neophytes that belonged to each Mission; and they were kept scrupulously clean.

In 1800 the presidio of San Diego had a population of about two hundred, including officers, soldiers, and their families. These persons possessed property in horses, cattle, and domestic animals and fowls necessary to a life of comfort and plenty, and likewise had ample time for all the rude sports and plays characteristic of their times. Indeed, those were halcyon days for the soldier compared with the days in which the ordinary duties of his profession called him to other parts of the Spanish empire. And the humble Indian also had his days of delight in play and sports, intermixed in liberal profusion with his days of labor under the gentle rule of the padres.

It has been a benevolent practice of the Church for centuries in every land where the cross prevailed to give its deserving devotees many days of festival in each year, which are instructive object lessons for their good, and promote the cause of the Church. Who would question its wisdom when not indulged to excess? In 1828 the Mission itself had in its care fifteen hundred Indians, and owned about twenty-eight thousand head of horses, cattle, and sheep, while it raised annually more than six thousand bushels of wheat, barley, and oats.

All this was soon lost to the padres and converts, and to thousands of others who drew the very bread of Iife from the Missions, by the malevolent policy of the Mexican Government. All that now remains of this great and beneficent Mission, after a lapse of seventy years from the time when its wealth and its glory departed, is a small school for the education of Indian children, conducted by a loyal representative of the old padres, living in poverty, but faithful to duty and reverent toward the past. All else around the ill-fated locality is desolation and ruin.

Return to: The Missions of California and the Old Southwest

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