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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California By George Wharton James Characters: 8218

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

On September 8, 1797, the seventeenth of the California Missions was founded by Padre Lasuen, in the Encino Valley, where Francisco Reyes had a rancho in the Los Angeles jurisdiction. The natives called it Achois Comihavit. Reyes' house was appropriated as a temporary dwelling for the missionary. The Mission was dedicated to Fernando III, King of Spain. Lasuen came down from San Miguel to Santa Barbara, especially for the foundation, and from thence with Sergeant Olivera and a military escort. These, with Padre Francisco Dumetz, the priest chosen to have charge, and his assistant, Francisco Favier Uría, composed, with the large concourse of Indians, the witnesses of the solemn ceremonial.

On the fourth of October Olivera reported the guard-house and storehouse finished, two houses begun, and preparations already being made for the church.

From the baptismal register it is seen that ten children were baptized the first day, and thirteen adults were received early in October. By the end of 1797 there were fifty-five neophytes.

Three years after its founding 310 Indians were gathered in, and its year's crop was 1000 bushels of grain. The Missions of San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, San Buenaventura, and Santa Barbara had contributed live-stock, and now its herds had grown to 526 horses, mules, and cattle, and 600 sheep.

In December, 1806, an adobe church, with a tile roof, was consecrated, which on the 21st of December, 1812, was severely injured by the earthquake that did damage to almost all the Missions of the chain. Thirty new beams were needed to support the injured walls. A new chapel was built, which was completed in 1818.

In 1834 Lieutenant Antonio del Valle was the comisionado appointed to secularize the Mission, and the next year he became majordomo and served until 1837.

It was on his journey north, in 1842, to take hold of the governorship, that Micheltorena learned at San Fernando of Commodore Jones's raising of the American flag at Monterey. By his decree, also, in 1843, San Fernando was ordered returned to the control of the padres, which was done, though the next year Duran reported that there were but few cattle left, and two vineyards.

Micheltorena was destined again to appear at San Fernando, for when the Californians under Pio Pico and Castro rose to drive out the Mexicans, the governor finally capitulated at the same place, as he had heard the bad news of the Americans' capture of Monterey. February 21, 1845, after a bloodless "battle" at Cahuenga, he "abdicated," and finally left the country and returned to Mexico.

In 1845 Juan Manso and Andrés Pico leased the Mission at a rental of $1120, the affairs having been fairly well administered by Padre Orday after its return to the control of the friars. A year later it was sold by Pio Pico, under the order of the assembly, for $14,000, to Eulogio Célis, whose title was afterwards confirmed by the courts. Orday remained as pastor until May, 1847, and was San Fernando's last minister under the Franciscans.

In 1847 San Fernando again heard the alarm of war. Frémont and his battalion reached here in January, and remained until the signing of the treaty of Cahuenga, which closed all serious hostilities against the United States in its conquest of California.

Connected with the Mission of San Fernando is the first discovery of California gold. Eight years before the great days of '49 Francisco Lopez, the mayordomo of the Mission, was in the canyon of San Feliciano, which is about eight miles westerly from the present town of Newhall, and according to Don Abel Stearns, "with a companion, while in search of some stray horses, about midday stopped under some trees and tied their horses to feed. While resting in the shade, Lopez with his sheath knife dug up some wild onions, and in the dirt discovered a piece of gold. Searching further, he found more. On his return to town he showed these pieces to his friends, who at once declared there must be a placer of gold there."

Then the rush began. As soon as the people in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara h

eard of it, they flocked to the new "gold fields" in hundreds. And the first California gold dust ever coined at the government mint at Philadelphia came from these mines. It was taken around Cape Horn in a sailing-vessel by Alfred Robinson, the translator of Boscana's Indians of California, and consisted of 18.34 ounces, and made $344.75, or over $19 to the ounce.

Davis says that in the first two years after the discovery not less than from $80,000 to $100,000 was gathered. Don Antonio Coronel, with three Indian laborers, in 1842, took out $600 worth of dust in two months.

Water being scarce, the methods of washing the gravel were both crude and wasteful. And it is interesting to note that the first gold "pans" were bateas, or bowl-shaped Indian baskets.

The church at San Fernando is in a completely ruined condition. It stands southwest to northeast. The entrance is at the southwest end and the altar at the northeast. There is also a side entrance at the east, with a half-circular arch, sloping into a larger arch inside, with a flat top and rounded upper corners. The thickness of the walls allows the working out of various styles in these outer and inner arches that is curious and interesting. They reveal the individuality of the builder, and as they are all structural and pleasing, they afford a wonderful example of variety in adapting the arch to its necessary functions.





The graveyard is on the northwest side of the church, and close by is the old olive orchard, where a number of fine trees are still growing. There are also two large palms, pictures of which are generally taken with the Mission in the background, and the mountains beyond. It is an exquisite subject. The remains of adobe walls still surround the orchard.

The doorway leading to the graveyard is of a half-circle inside, and slopes outward, where the arch is square.

There is a buttress of burnt brick to the southeast of the church, which appears as if it might have been an addition after the earthquake.

At the monastery the chief entrance is a simple but effective arched doorway, now plastered and whitewashed. The double door frame projects pilaster-like, with a four-membered cornice above, from which rises an elliptical arch, with an elliptical cornice about a foot above.

From this monastery one looks out upon a court or plaza which is literally dotted with ruins, though they are mainly of surrounding walls. Immediately in the foreground is a fountain, the reservoir of which is built of brick covered with cement. A double bowl rests on the center standard.

Further away in the court are the remnants of what may have been another fountain, the reservoir of which is made of brick, built into a singular geometrical figure. This is composed of eight semicircles, with V's connecting them, the apex of each V being on the outside. It appears like an attempt at creating a conventionalized flower in brick.

Two hundred yards or so away from the monastery is a square structure, the outside of boulders. Curiosity prompting, you climb up, and on looking in you find that inside this framework of boulders are two circular cisterns of brick, fully six feet in diameter across the top, decreasing in size to the bottom, which is perhaps four feet in diameter.

In March, 1905, considerable excitement was caused by the actions of the parish priest of San Fernando, a Frenchman named Le Bellegny, of venerable appearance and gentle manners. Not being acquainted with the status quo of the old Mission, he exhumed the bodies of the Franciscan friars who had been buried in the church and reburied them. He removed the baptismal font to his church, and unroofed some of the old buildings and took the tiles and timbers away. As soon as he understood the matter he ceased his operations, but, unfortunately, not before considerable damage was done.

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