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Picture and Text / 1893 By Henry James Characters: 11547

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


San Luis Rey Mission and its Founder.

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What a wonderful movement was that wave of religious zeal, of proselyting fervor, that accompanied the great colonizing efforts of Spain in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Conquistadores and friars-one as earnest as the other-swept over the New World. Cortés was no more bent upon his conquests than Ugarte, Kino and Escalante were upon theirs; Coronado had his counterpart in Marcos de Nizza, and Cabrillo in Junipero Serra. The one class sought material conquest, the other spiritual; the one, to amass countries for their sovereign, fame and power for themselves, wealth for their followers; the other, to amass souls, to gain virtue in the sight of God, to build churches and crowd them with aborigines they had "caught in the gospel net." Both were full of indomitable energy and unquenchable zeal, and few epochs in history stand out more wonderfully than this for their great achievements in their respective domains.

Mexico and practically the whole of North and South America were brought under Spanish rule, and the various Catholic orders-Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites-dotted the countries over with churches, monasteries and convents that are today the marvel and joy of the architect, antiquarian and historian.

Alta California felt the power of these movements in three distinct waves. The two first were somewhat feeble,-the discovery by Cabrillo, and rediscovery sixty years later by Vizcaino,-the third powerful and convincing. During this epoch was started and carried on the colonization of California by the bringing in of families from Mexico, and its Christianization by the baptizing of the aborigines of the new land into the Church, the making of them real or nominal Christians, and the teaching of them the arts and crafts of civilization.

Twenty-one missions were established, reaching from San Diego on the south, to Sonoma on the north, and great mission churches and establishments rose up in the land, of which the padres, in the main, were the architects and the Indians the builders.

Second in this chain-the next mission establishment north of the parent mission of San Diego-was San Luis Rey, dedicated to St. Louis IX, the king of France, who reigned from 1226 to 1270, renowned for his piety at home and abroad, and who was especially active in the Crusades. He was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII, in 1297, in the reign of his grandson, Phillip the Fair, and his day is observed on the 25th of August.

The Mission of San Luis Rey was the eighteenth to be founded and Junipero Serra, the venerable leader of the zealous band of Franciscans, had passed to his reward fourteen years before, his mantle descending in turn to Francisco Palou, and then to Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, under whose regime as Padre Presidente it was established. The friar put in charge of the work was one of the most energetic, capable, competent and lovable geniuses the remarkable system of the Franciscan Order ever produced in California. He was zealous but practical, dominating but kindly, a wonderful organizer yet great in attending to detail, gifted with tremendous energy, a master as an architect, and withal so lovable in his nature as to win all with whom he came in contact, Indians as well as Spaniards and Mexicans. The Mission was founded on the 13th of June, 1798, and yet so willingly did the Indians work for him, that on the 18th of July six thousand adobes were already made for the new church. It was completed in 1802. For over a century it has stood, the wonder, amazement and delight of all who have seen it.

Alfred Robinson, the Boston merchant, who came to California in 1828 and settled here, engaging in business for many years, visited San Luis Rey in 1829, and has left us a graphic picture of the buildings of San Luis Rey and the life of its Indians. Riding over the barren and hilly back country from San Diego he discants upon the weariness of the forty-mile journey until the Mission is perceived from the top of an eminence in the center of a rich and cultivated valley. He continues:

It was yet early in the afternoon when we rode up to the establishment, at the entrance of which many Indians had congregated to behold us, and as we dismounted, some stood ready to take off our spurs, whilst others unsaddled the horses. The Reverend Father was at prayers, and some time elapsed ere he came, giving us a most cordial reception. Chocolate and refreshments were at once ordered for us, and rooms where we might arrange our dress, which had become somewhat soiled by the dust.

This Mission was founded in the year 1798, by its present minister, Father Antonio Peyri, who had been for many years a reformer and director among the Indians. At this time (1829) its population was about three thousand Indians, who were all employed in various occupations. Some were engaged in agriculture, while others attended to the management of over sixty thousand head of cattle. Many were carpenters, masons, coopers, saddlers, shoemakers, weavers, etc., while the females were employed in spinning and preparing wool for their looms, which produced a sufficiency of blankets for their yearly consumption. Thus every one had his particular vocation, and each department its official superintendent, or alcalde; these were subject to the supervision of one or more Spanish mayordomos, who were appointed by the missionary father, and consequently under his immediate direction.

The building occupies a large square, of at least eighty or ninety yards each side; forming an extensive area, in the center of which a fountain constantly supplies the establishment with pure water.

The front is protected by a long corridor,

supported by thirty-two arches, ornamented with latticed railings, which, together with the fine appearance of the church on the right, presents an attractive view to the traveller; the interior is divided into apartments for the missionary and mayordomos, store-rooms, workshops, hospitals, rooms for unmarried males and females, while near at hand is a range of buildings tenanted by the families of the superintendents. There is also a guard-house, where were stationed some ten or a dozen soldiers, and in the rear spacious granaries stored with an abundance of wheat, corn, beans, peas, etc., also large enclosures for wagons, carts, and the implements of agriculture. In the interior of the square might be seen the various trades at work, presenting a scene not dissimilar to some of the working departments of our state prisons. Adjoining are two large gardens, which supply the table with fruit and vegetables, and two or three large "ranchos" or farms are situated from five to eight leagues distant, where the Indians are employed in cultivating and domesticating cattle.

The church is a large, stone edifice, whose exterior is not without some considerable ornament and tasteful finish; but the interior is richer, and the walls are adorned with a variety of pictures of saints and Scripture subjects, glaringly colored, and attractive to the eye. Around the altar are many images of the saints, and the tall and massive candelebra, lighted during mass, throw an imposing light upon the whole.

Mass is offered daily, and the greater portion of the Indians attend; but it is not unusual to see numbers of them driven along by alcaldes, and under the whip's lash forced to the very doors of the sanctuary. The men are placed generally upon the left, and the females occupy the right of the church, so that a passage way or aisle is formed between them from the principal entrance to the altar, where zealous officials are stationed to enforce silence and attention. At evening again, "El Rosario" is prayed, and a second time all assemble to participate in supplication to the Virgin.

The Pala Campanile, Showing the Cactus Growing by the Side of the Cross.

The Pala Chapel and Campanile Before the Restoration.

In this earlier account he adds comment upon the treatment some of the Indians received at the hands of their superiors which would lead one to infer that the rule of the padres was one of harsh severity rather than of affection and wise discipline. Later, however, he writes more moderately, as follows:

On the inside of the main building it formed a large square, where he found at least one or two hundred young Indian girls busily employed spinning, each one with her spinning wheel, and the different apartments around were occupied with the different trades, such as carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, tailors, most useful for the establishment. There were also weavers, busily at work weaving blankets, all apparently contented and happy in their vocation. Passing out of the square, he strolled towards the garden, where he entered and found, much to his surprise, a great variety of fruit trees-pears, apples, peaches, plums, figs, oranges and lemons, besides a large vineyard, bearing the choicest grapes.

While it is very possible the Mission of San Juan Capistrano-the next one further north-was the most imposing, architecturally, of all the California Missions in its prime, it was not allowed to stand long enough for us to know its glory, the earthquake of 1812 destroying its tower, after which time it remained in ruins. San Luis Rey suffered materially from the hands of the spoilers during the sad epoch of Secularization and when I first saw it, some thirty years ago, nearly all its outbuildings were destroyed. Yet even in its ruined condition it exercised great fascination over all who viewed it, and careful study revealed that, architecturally, it was the most perfect Mission of the whole chain. While not as solidly built as either Santa Barbara, San Carlos at Monterey or San Carlos in the Carmelo Valley, it was architecturally more perfect. Indeed it was the only Mission that combined within itself all the elements of the so-called Mission Style of architecture.

To those unfamiliar with the history of California and the Missions the question naturally arises, when they find the buildings in ruins, the Indians scattered, and all traces of the establishments' former glory gone, "Whence and Why this ruin?"

To answer fully would require more space than this brochure affords, and for further information those interested are referred to my larger work.[A] In brief it may be stated that the decline of the Missions came about through the cupidity of Mexican politicians, who deprived the padres of their temporal control, released the Indians from their parental care, committed the property of the Missions into the latter's hands and then deliberately and ruthlessly robbed them on every hand. The work of demoralizing the Indians was followed by the Americans who took possession of California soon after the Mexican act of secularization of the Missions was passed, and the days of the gold excitement which came soon after pretty nearly completed the sad work.

Hence it is only since the later growth of population in California that a desire to preserve these old Missions has arisen. Under the energetic direction of Dr. Charles F. Lummis, the Landmarks Club has done much needed work in preserving them from further ruin, and at San Luis Rey the Franciscans themselves have systematically carried on the work of restoration until, save that the Indians are gone and the outbuildings are less extensive, one might deem himself at the Mission soon after its original erection.

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