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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 6208

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The third Mission of the series was founded in honor of San Antonio de Padua, July 14, 1771, by Serra, accompanied by Padres Pieras and Sitjar. One solitary Indian heard the dedicatory mass, but Serra's enthusiasm knew no bounds. He was assured that this "first fruit of the wilderness" would go forth and bring many of his companions to the priests. Immediately after the mass he hastened to the Indian, lavished much attention on him, and gave him gifts. That same day many other Indians came and clearly indicated a desire to stay with such pleasant company. They brought pine-nuts and acorns, and the padres gave them in exchange strings of glass beads of various colors.

At once buildings were begun, in which work the Indians engaged with energy, and soon church and dwellings, surrounded by a palisade, were completed. From the first the Indians manifested confidence in the padres, and the fifteen days that Padre Serra remained were days of intense joy and gladness at seeing the readiness of natives to associate with him and his brother priests. Without delay they began to learn the language of the Indians, and when they had made sufficient progress they devoted much time to catechising them. In two years 158 natives were baptized and enrolled, and instead of relying upon the missionaries for food, they brought in large quantities of acorns, pine-nuts, squirrels, and rabbits. The Mission being located in the heart of the mountains, where pine and oak trees grew luxuriantly, the pine-nut and acorn were abundant. Before the end of 1773 the church and dwellings were all built, of adobe, and three soldiers, who had married native women, were living in separate houses.

In August of 1774 occurred the first trouble. The gentile Indians, angered at the progress of the Mission and the gathering in of so many of their people, attacked the Mission and wounded an Indian about to be baptized. When the news reached Rivera at Monterey, he sent a squad of soldiers, who captured the culprits, gave them a flogging, and imprisoned them. Later they were flogged again, and, after a few days in the stocks, they were released.

In 1779 an alcalde and regidore were chosen from the natives to assist in the administration of justice. In 1800 the report shows that the neophyte population was 1118, with 767 baptisms and 656 deaths. The cattle and horses had decreased from 2232 of the last report to 2217, but small stock had slightly increased. In 1787 the church was regarded as the best in California, though it was much improved later, for in 1797 it is stated that it was of adobes with a tiled roof. In 1793 the large adobe block, eighty varas long and one vara wide, was constructed for friars' houses, church and storehouse, and it was doubtless this church that was tiled four years later.

In 1805 it gained its highest population, there being 1296 Indians under its control. The lands of the Mission were found to be barren, necessitating frequent changes in cultivated fields and stock ranges.

In 1808 the venerable Buenaventura Sitjar, one of the founders of the Missio

n, and who had toiled there continuously for thirty-seven years, passed to his reward, and was buried in sight of the hills he had loved so long. The following year, or in 1810, work was begun on a newer and larger church of adobes, and this is doubtless the building whose ruins now remain. Though we have no record of its dedication, there is no question but that it took place prior to 1820, and in 1830 references are made to its arched corridors, etc., built of brick. Robinson, who visited it in this year, says the whole Mission is built of brick, but in this he is in error. The fachada is of brick, but the main part of the building is of adobe. Robinson speaks thus of the Mission and its friar: "Padre Pedro Cabot, the present missionary director, I found to be a fine, noble-looking man, whose manner and whole deportment would have led one to suppose he had been bred in the courts of Europe, rather than in the cloister. Everything was in the most perfect order: the Indians cleanly and well dressed, the apartments tidy, the workshops, granaries, and storehouses comfortable and in good keeping."



On the old stage route between San Francisco and Los Angeles,

near Mission San Antonio de Padua.


In 1834 Cabot retired to give place to Padre Jesus María Vasquez del Mercado, one of the newly arrived Franciscans from Zacatecas. In this year the neophyte population had dwindled to 567, and five years later Visitador Hartwell found only 270 living at the Mission and its adjoining ranches. It is possible, however, that there were fully as many more living at a distance of whom he gained no knowledge, as the official report for 1840 gives 500 neophytes.

Manuel Crespo was the comisionado for secularization in 1835, and he and Padre Mercado had no happy times together. Mercado made it so unpleasant that six other administrators were appointed in order to please him, but it was a vain attempt. As a consequence, the Indians felt the disturbances and discord, and became discontented and unmanageable.

In 1843, according to Governor Micheltorena's order of March 29, the temporal control of the Mission was restored to the padre. But, though the order was a kindly one, and relieved the padre from the interference of officious, meddling, inefficient, and dishonest "administrators," it was too late to effect any real service.

As far as I can learn, Pico's plan did not affect San Antonio, and it was not one of those sold by him in 1845-1846. In 1848 Padre Doroteo Ambris was in charge as curate. For thirty years he remained here, true to his calling, an entirely different kind of man from the quarrelsome, arrogant, drinking, and gambling Mercado. He finally died at San Antonio, and was buried in the Mission he guarded so well.

In 1904 the California Historic Landmarks League (Inc.) undertook the preservation of San Antonio, but little has yet been accomplished. Much more should speedily be done, if the walls are to be kept from falling.

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