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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 7835

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

On the tragic events at San Diego that led to the delay in the founding of San Juan Capistrano I have already fully dwelt. The Mission was founded by Serra, November 1, 1776, and the adobe church recently restored by the Landmarks Club is said to be the original church built at that time.

Troubles began here early, as at San Gabriel, owing to the immorality of the guards with the Indian women, and in one disturbance three Indians were killed and several wounded. In 1781 the padre feared another uprising, owing to incitements of the Colorado River Indians, who came here across the desert and sought to arouse the local Indians to revolt.





In 1787 Governor Fages reported that San Juan was in a thoroughly prosperous condition; lands were fertile, ministers faithful and zealous, and natives well disposed. In 1800 the number of neophytes was 1046, horses and cattle 8500, while it had the vast number of 17,000 sheep. Crops were 6300 bushels, and in 1797 the presidios of Santa Barbara and San Diego owed San Juan Mission over $6000 for supplies furnished. In 1794 two large adobe granaries with tile roofs, and forty houses for neophytes were built. In February, 1797, work was begun on the church, the remains of which are now to be seen. It is in the form of a Roman cross, ninety feet wide and a hundred and eighty feet long, and was planned by Fray Gorgonio. It was probably the finest of all the California Mission structures. Built of quarried stone, with arched roof of the same material and a lofty tower adorning its fachada, it justifies the remark that "it could not be duplicated to-day under $100,000."

The consecration of the beautiful new church took place, September 7, 1806. President Tapis was aided by padres from many Missions, and the scene was made gorgeous and brilliant by the presence of Governor Arrillaga and his staff, with many soldiers from San Diego and Santa Barbara.

The following day another mass was said and sermon preached, and on the 9th the bones of Padre Vicente Fuster were transferred to their final resting-place within the altar of the new church. A solemn requiem mass was chanted, thus adding to the solemnity of the occasion.

The church itself originally had seven domes. Only two now remain. In the earthquake of 1812, when the tower fell, one of the domes was crushed, but the others remained fairly solid and intact until the sixties of the last century, when, with a zeal that outran all discretion, and that the fool-killer should have been permitted to restrain, they were blown up with gunpowder by mistaken friends who expected to rebuild the church with the same material, but never did so.

This earthquake of 1812 was felt almost the whole length of the Mission chain, and it did much damage. It occurred on Sunday morning December 8. At San Juan a number of neophytes were at morning mass; the day had opened with intense sultriness and heaviness; the air was hot and seemed charged with electricity. Suddenly a shock was felt. All were alarmed, but, devoted to his high office, the padre began again the solemn words, when, suddenly, the second shock came and sent the great tower crashing down upon one of the domes or vaults, and in a moment the whole mass of masonry came down upon the congregation. Thirty-nine were buried in the next two days, and four were taken out of the ruins later. The officiating priest escaped, as by a miracle, through the sacristy.

It was in 1814 that Padre Boscana, who had been serving at San Luis Rey, came to reside at San Juan Capistrano, where he wrote the interesting account of the Indians that is so often quoted. In 1812, its population gained its greatest figure, 1361.

In November, 1833, Figueroa secularized the Missio

n by organizing a "provisional pueblo" of the Indians, and claiming that the padres voluntarily gave up the temporalities. There is no record of any inventory, and what became of the church property is not known. Lands were apportioned to the Indians by Captain Portilla. The following year, most probably, all this provisional work of Figueroa's was undone, and the Mission was secularized in the ordinary way, but in 1838 the Indians begged for the pueblo organization again, and freedom from overseers, whether lay or clerical. In 1840 Padre Zalvidea was instructed to emancipate them from Mission rule as speedily as possible. Janssens was appointed majordomo, and he reported that he zealously worked for the benefit of the Mission, repairing broken fences and ditches, bringing back runaway neophytes, clothing them and caring for the stock. But orders soon began to come in for the delivery of cattle and horses, applications rapidly came in for grants of the Mission ranches, and about the middle of June, 1841, the lands were divided among the ex-neophytes, about 100 in number, and some forty whites. At the end of July regulations were published for the foundation of the pueblo, and Don Juan Bandini soon thereafter went to supervise the work. He remained until March, 1842, in charge of the community property, and then left about half a dozen white families and twenty or more ex-neophytes duly organized as a pueblo.

In 1843 San Juan was one of the Missions the temporalities of which were to be restored to the Padres, provided they paid one-eighth of all produce into the public treasury. In 1844 it was reported that San Juan had no minister, and all its neophytes were scattered. In 1845 Pico's decree was published, stating that it was to be considered a pueblo; the church, curate's house and court-house should be reserved, and the rest of the property sold at auction for the payment of debts and the support of public worship. In December of that year the ex-Mission buildings and gardens were sold to Forster and McKinley for $710, the former of whom retained possession for many years. In 1846 the pueblo was reported as possessing a population of 113 souls.

Twenty years ago there used to be one of the best of the Mission libraries at San Juan. The books were all in old-style leather, sheepskin and parchment bindings, some of them tied with leathern thongs, and a few having heavy homemade metal clasps. They were all in Latin or Spanish, and were well known books of divinity. The first page of the record of marriages was written and signed by Junipero Serra.





There are still several interesting relics; among others, two instruments, doubtless Indian-made, used during the Easter services. One is a board studded with handle-like irons, which, when moved rapidly from side to side, makes a hideous noise. Another is a three-cornered box, on which are similar irons, and in this a loose stone is rattled In the service called "las tinieblas,"--the utter darkness,--expressive of the darkness after the crucifixion, when the church is absolutely without light, the appalling effect of these noises, heightened by the clanking of chains, is indescribable. In proof of the tireless industry of the priests and Indians of their charge, there are to be found at San Juan many ruins of the aqueducts, or flumes, some of brick, others of wood, supported across ravines, which conveyed the water needed to irrigate the eighty acres of orchard, vineyard, and garden that used to be surrounded by an adobe wall. Reservoirs, cisterns, and zanjas of brick, stone, and cement are seen here and there, and several remnants of the masonry aqueducts are still found in the village.

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