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   Chapter 4 THE MISSIONS FOUNDED BY PADRE FERMIN FRANCISCO LASUEN

The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 9646

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


AT Padre Serra's death Fermin Francisco Lasuen was chosen to be his successor as padre-presidente. At the time of his appointment he was the priest in charge at San Diego. He was elected by the directorate of the Franciscan College of San Fernando, in the City of Mexico, February 6, 1785, and on March 13, 1787, the Sacred Congregation at Rome confirmed his appointment, according to him the same right of confirmation which Serra had exercised. In five years this Father confirmed no less than ten thousand, one hundred thirty-nine persons.

Santa Barbara was the next Mission to be founded. For awhile it seemed that it would be located at Montecito, now the beautiful and picturesque suburb of its larger sister; but President Lasuen doubtless chose the site the Mission now occupies. Well up on the foothills of the Sierra Santa Inés, it has a commanding view of valley, ocean and islands beyond. Indeed, for outlook, it is doubtful if any other Mission equals it. It was formally dedicated on December 4, 1786.

Various obstacles to the establishment of Santa Barbara had been placed in the way of the priests. Governor Fages wished to curtail their authority, and sought to make innovations which the padres regarded as detrimental in the highest degree to the Indians, as well as annoying and humiliating to themselves. This was the reason of the long delay in founding Santa Barbara. It was the same with the following Mission. It had long been decided upon. Its site was selected. The natives called it Algsacupi. It was to be dedicated "to the most pure and sacred mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Queen of Angels, and Our Lady," a name usually, however, shortened in Spanish parlance to "La Purísima Concepción." On December 8, 1787, Lasuen blessed the site, raised the cross, said mass and preached a sermon; but it was not until March, 1788, that work on the buildings was begun. An adobe structure, roofed with tiles, was completed in 1802, and, ten years later, destroyed by earthquake.

The next Mission founded by Lasuen was that of Santa Cruz. On crossing the coast range from Santa Clara, he thus wrote: "I found in the site the most excellent fitness which had been reported to me. I found, beside, a stream of water, very near, copious, and important. On August 28, the day of Saint Augustine, I said mass, and raised a cross on the spot where the establishment is to be. Many gentiles came, old and young, of both sexes, and showed that they would gladly enlist under the Sacred Standard. Thanks be to God!"

On Sunday, September 25, Sugert, an Indian chief of the neighborhood, assured by the priests and soldiers that no harm should come to him or his people by the noise of exploding gunpowder, came to the formal founding. Mass was said, a Te Deum chanted, and Don Hermenegildo Sol, Commandant of San Francisco, took possession of the place, thus completing the foundation. To-day nothing but a memory remains of the Mission of the Holy Cross, it having fallen into ruins and totally disappeared.

Lasuen's fourth Mission was founded in this same year, 1791. He had chosen a site, called by the Indians Chuttusgelis, and always known to the Spaniards as Soledad, since their first occupation of the country. Here, on October 9, Lasuen, accompanied by Padres Sitjar and Garcia, in the presence of Lieutenant José Argüello, the guard, and a few natives, raised the cross, blessed the site, said mass, and formally established the Mission of "Nuestra Senyora de la Soledad."

One interesting entry in the Mission books is worthy of mention. In September, 1787, two vessels belonging to the newly founded United States sailed from Boston. The smaller of these was the "Lady Washington," under command of Captain Gray. In the Soledad Mission register of baptisms, it is written that on May 19, 1793, there was baptized a Nootka Indian, twenty years of age, "Inquina, son of a gentile father, named Taguasmiki, who in the year 1789 was killed by the American Gert [undoubtedly Gray], Captain of the vessel called 'Washington,' belonging to the Congress of Boston."

For six years no new Missions were founded: then, in 1797, four were established, and one in 1798. These, long contemplated, were delayed for a variety of reasons. It was the purpose of the Fathers to have the new Missions farther inland than those already established, that they might reach more of the natives: those who lived in the valleys and on the slopes of the foothills. Besides this, it had always been the intent of the Spanish government that further explorations of the interior country should take place, so that, as the Missions became strong enough to support themselves, the Indians there might be brought under the influence of the Church

. Governor Neve's regulations say:

"It is made imperative to increase the number of Reductions (stations for converting the Indians) in proportion to the vastness of the country occupied, and although this must be carried out in the succession and order aforesaid, as fast as the older establishments shall be fully secure, etc.," and earlier, "while the breadth of the country is unknown (it) is presumed to be as great as the length, or greater (200 leagues), since its greatest breadth is counted by thousands of leagues."

Various investigations were made by the nearest priests in order to select the best locations for the proposed Missions, and, in 1796, Lasuen reported the results to the new governor, Borica, who in turn communicated them to the Viceroy in Mexico. Approval was given and orders issued for the establishment of the five new Missions.

On June 9, 1797, Lasuen left San Francisco for the founding of the Mission San José, then called the Alameda. The following day, a brush church was erected, and, on the morrow, the usual foundation ceremonies occurred. The natives named the site Oroysom. Beautifully situated on the foothills, with a prominent peak near by, it offers an extensive view over the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay region. At first, a wooden structure with a grass roof served as a church; but later a brick structure was erected, which Von Langsdorff visited in 1806.

It seems singular to us at this date that although the easiest means of communication between the Missions of Santa Clara, San José and San Francisco was by water on the Bay of San Francisco, the padre and soldiers at San Francisco had no boat or vessel of any kind. Langsdorff says of this: "Perhaps the missionaries are afraid lest if there were boats, they might facilitate the escape of the Indians, who never wholly lose their love of freedom and their attachment to their native habits; they therefore consider it better to confine their communication with one another to the means afforded by the land. The Spaniards, as well as their nurslings, the Indians, are very seldom under the necessity of trusting themselves to the waves, and if such a necessity occur, they make a kind of boat for the occasion, of straw, reeds, and rushes, bound together so closely as to be water-tight. In this way they contrive to go very easily from one shore to the other. Boats of this kind are called walza by the Spanish. The oars consist of a thin, long pole somewhat broader at each end, with which the occupants row sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other."

For the next Mission two sites were suggested; but, as early as June 17, Corporal Ballesteros erected a church, missionary-house, granary, and guard-house at the point called by the natives Popeloutchom, and by the Spaniards, San Benito. Eight days later, Lasuen, aided by Padres Catala and Martiarena, founded the Mission dedicated to the saint of that day, San Juan Bautista.

Next in order, between the two Missions of San Antonio de Padua and San Luis Obispo, was that of "the most glorious prince of the heavenly militia," San Miguel. Lasuen, aided by Sitjar, in the presence of a large number of Indians, performed the ceremony in the usual form, on July 25, 1797. This Mission eventually grew to large proportions and its interior remains to-day almost exactly as decorated by the hands of the original priests.

San Fernando Rey was next established, on September 8, by Lasuen, aided by Padre Dumetz.

After extended correspondence between Lasuen and Governor Borica, a site, called by the natives Tacayme, was finally chosen for locating the next Mission, which was to bear the name of San Luis, Rey de Francia. Thus it became necessary to distinguish between the two saints of the same name: San Luis, Bishop (Obispo), and San Luis, King; but modern American parlance has eliminated the comma, and they are respectively San Luis Obispo and San Luis Rey. Lasuen, with the honored Padre Peyri and Padre Santiago, conducted the ceremonies on June 13, and the hearts of all concerned were made glad by the subsequent baptism of fifty-four children.

It was as an adjunct to this Mission that Padre Peyri, in 1816, founded the chapel of San Antonio de Pala, twenty miles east from San Luis Rey: to which place were removed the Palatingwas, or Agua Calientes, evicted a few years ago from Warner's Ranch. This chapel has the picturesque campanile, or small detached belfry, the pictures of which are known throughout the world.

With the founding of San Luis Rey this branch of the work of President Lasuen terminated. Bancroft regards him as a greater man than Serra, and one whose life and work entitle him to the highest praise. He died at San Carlos on June 26, 1803, and was buried by the side of Serra.

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