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   Chapter 22 LA SOLEDAD

The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 6261

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Mission of "Our Lady of Solitude" has only a brief record in written history; but the little that is known and the present condition of the ruins suggest much that has never been recorded.

Early in 1791 Padre Lasuen, who was searching for suitable locations for two new Missions, arrived at a point midway between San Antonio and Santa Clara. With quick perception he recognized the advantages of Soledad, known to the Indians as Chuttusgelis. The name of this region, bestowed by Crespí years previous, was suggestive of its solitude and dreariness; but the wide, vacant fields indicated good pasturage in seasons favored with much rain, and the possibility of securing water for irrigation promised crops from the arid lands. Lasuen immediately selected the most advantageous site for the new Mission, but several months elapsed before circumstances permitted the erection of the first rude structures.

On October ninth the Mission was finally established.

There were comparatively few Indians in that immediate region, and only eleven converts were reported as the result of the efforts of the first year. There was ample room for flocks and herds, and although the soil was not of the best and much irrigation was necessary to produce good crops, the padres with their persistent labors gradually increased their possessions and the number of their neophytes. At the close of the ninth year there were 512 Indians living at the Mission, and their property included a thousand cattle, several thousand sheep, and a good supply of horses. Five years later (in 1805) there were 727 neophytes, in spite of the fact that a severe epidemic a few years previously had reduced their numbers and caused many to flee from the Mission in fear. A new church was begun in 1808.

On July 24, 1814, Governor Arrillaga, who had been taken seriously ill while on a tour of inspection, and had hurried to Soledad to be under the care of his old friend, Padre Iba?ez, died there, and was buried, July 26, under the center of the church.

For about forty years priests and natives lived a quiet, peaceful life in this secluded valley, with an abundance of food and comfortable shelter. That they were blessed with plenty and prosperity is evidenced by the record that in 1829 they furnished $1150 to the Monterey presidio. At one time they possessed over six thousand cattle; and in 1821 the number of cattle, sheep, horses, and other animals was estimated at over sixteen thousand.

ANOTHER VIEW OF THE WALLS OF MISSION LA SOLEDAD.

MISSION SAN JOSé. SOON AFTER THE DECREE OF SECULARIZATION. From an old print.

FIGURE OF CHRIST, MISSION SAN JOSé ORPHANAGE.

After the changes brought about by political administration the number of Indians rapidly decreased, and the property acquired by their united toil quickly dwindled away, until little was left but poverty and suffering.

At the time secularization was effected in 1835, according to the inventory made, the estate, aside from church property, was valued at $36,000. Six years after secular authorities took charge only about 70 Indians remained, with 45 cattl

e, 25 horses, and 865 sheep,--and a large debt had been incurred. On June 4, 1846, the Soledad Mission was sold to Feliciano Soveranes for $800.

One of the pitiful cases that occurred during the decline of the Missions was the death of Padre Sarría, which took place at Soledad in 1835, or, as some authorities state, in 1838. This venerable priest had been very prominent in missionary labors, having occupied the position of Comisario Prefecto during many years. He was also the presidente for several years. As a loyal Spaniard he declined to take the oath of allegiance to the Mexican Republic, and was nominally under arrest for about five years, or subject to exile; but so greatly was he revered and trusted as a man of integrity and as a business manager of great ability that the order of exile was never enforced. The last years of his life were spent at the Mission of Our Lady of Solitude. When devastation began and the temporal prosperity of the Mission quickly declined, this faithful pastor of a fast thinning flock refused to leave the few poverty-stricken Indians who still sought to prolong life in their old home. One Sunday morning, while saying mass in the little church, the enfeebled and aged padre fell before the altar and immediately expired. As it had been reported that he was "leading a hermit's life and destitute of means," it was commonly believed that this worthy and devoted missionary was exhausted from lack of proper food, and in reality died of starvation.

There were still a few Indians at Soledad in 1850, their scattered huts being all that remained of the once large rancherías that existed here.

The ruins of Soledad are about four miles from the station of the Southern Pacific of that name. The church itself is at the southwest corner of a mass of ruins. These are all of adobe, though the foundations are of rough rock. Flint pebbles have been mixed with the adobe of the church walls. They were originally about three feet thick, and plastered. A little of the plaster still remains.

In 1904 there was but one circular arch remaining in all the ruins; everything else had fallen in. The roof fell in thirty years ago. At the eastern end, where the arch is, there are three or four rotten beams still in place; and on the south side of the ruins, where one line of corridors ran, a few poles still remain. Heaps of ruined tiles lie here and there, just as they fell when the supporting poles rotted and gave way.

It is claimed by the Soberanes family in Soledad that the present ruins of the church are of the building erected about 1850 by their grandfather. The family lived in a house just southwest of the Mission, and there this grandfather was born. He was baptized, confirmed, and married in the old church, and when, after secularization, the Mission property was offered for sale, he purchased it. As the church--in the years of pitiful struggle for possession, of its temporalities--had been allowed to go to ruin, this true son of the Church erected the building, the ruins of which now bring sadness to the hearts of all who care for the Missions.

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