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California Historical Articles

California Missions - Santa Clara De Asis

( Originally Published Early 1922 )

Rivera delayed the founding of San Francisco and Santa Clara for reasons of his own ; and when, in September, 1776, he received a letter from Viceroy Bucareli, in which were references clearly showing that it was supposed by the writer that they were already established, he set to work without further delay, and went with Padre Pena, as already related. The Mission was duly founded January 12, 1777. A square of seventy yards was set off and buildings at once begun. Cattle and other Mission property were sent down from San Francisco and San Carlos, and the guard returned. But it was not long before the Indians developed an unholy love for contraband beef, and Moraga and his soldiers were sent for to capture and punish the thieves. Three of them were killed, but even then depredations occasionally continued. At the end of the year there had been sixty-seven baptisms, including eight adults, and twenty-five deaths.

The present is the third site occupied by Santa Clara. The Mission was originally established some three miles away, near Alviso, at the headwaters of the San Francisco Bay, near the river Guadalupe, on a site called by the Indians So-co-is-u-ka (laurel wood). It was probably located there on account of its being the chief rendezvous of the Indians, fishing being good, the river having an abundance of salmon trout. The Mission remained there only a short time, as the waters rose twice in 1779, and washed it out. Then the padres removed, in 1780-82, and built about 150 yards southwest of the present broad-gauge (Southern Pacific) depot, where quite recently traces were found of the old adobe walls. They remained at this spot, deeming the location good, until an earthquake in 1812 gave them considerable trouble. A second earthquake in 1818 so injured their buildings that they felt compelled to move to the present site, which has been occupied ever since. The Mission church and other buildings were begun in 1818, and finally dedicated in 1822. The site was called by the Indians Gerguensun the Valley of the Oaks.

The corner-stone of the second church was laid November 19, 1781, and the building was completed in 1784. It was dedicated May 15, by Serra, Palou, and Pena, in the presence of Fages and Moraga. The occasion was a sad one for Serra, as only four days previously Palou had buried Murguia, its architect, within its walls. It was the most beautiful and elaborate church, up to that time, erected in California.

In agricultural advantages Santa Clara was deemed second only to San Gabriel, and crops of grain and fruit were both good, thus early foreshadowing the heavy harvests, especially of the latter, for which the whole valley is now noted throughout the world. In 1790 Santa Clara stood third in the number of its converts.

On the 29th of November, 1777, the pueblo of San Jose was founded. The padres protested at the time that it was too near the Mission of Santa Clara, and for the next decade there was constant irritation, owing to the encroachments of the white settlers upon the lands of the Indians. Complaints were made and formally acted upon, and in July, 1801, the boundaries were surveyed, as asked for by the padres, and landmarks clearly marked and agreed upon so as to prevent future disputes.

In 1793 Vancouver visited Santa Clara from San Francisco, and describes the Mission buildings as forming an incomplete square of about 100 by 170 feet. Even though this was the second site chosen, they were in a low, marshy spot, and quite recently the padres had been confined to their house with a flood. A roof of tiles was put on the church in 1795, and it was also lengthened twenty-four feet. The natives were busily engaged in weaving, tanning, and shoemaking.

In 1794 the eastern shore of the Bay of San Francisco was almost unknown, and in November the padres of Santa Clara petitioned to be allowed to go on a gentile hunting expedition, alleging that it would be an easy task, as the drought had made the supply of food very short; but the commandante at San Francisco refused, because the country was " almost unknown," the natives perverse, and the adventure too hazardous.

In 1800 Santa Clara was the banner Mission for population, having 1247. Live-stock had increased to about 5000 head of each (cattle and horses), and crops were good.

For several years after 1800 there was considerable trouble with the Indians, hunting for a chief, sending after runaways, fights, and killings. In May, 1805, quite an alarm was caused by the discovery on the roof of the missionaries' house of a neophyte and a gentile who, it was alleged, were reconnoitring for a projected attack in which the whole Mission was to be burned and the padres killed. Troops were sent from San Francisco and Monterey, arrests made ; but careful investigation showed the whole thing to be a canard, spread abroad by some lazy neophytes to frighten the padres so that they would escape certain promised floggings.

In 1802, August 12, a grand high altar, which had been obtained in Mexico, was consecrated with elaborate ceremonies.

Padre Viader was a very muscular and athletic man; and one night, in 1814, a young gentile giant, named Marcelo, and two companions attacked him. In the rough and tumble fight which ensued the padre came out ahead; and after giving the culprits a severe homily on the sin of at-tacking a priest, they were pardoned, Marcelo becoming one of his best and most faithful friends thereafter. Robinson says Viader was " a good old man, whose heart and soul were in proportion to his immense figure."

In 1820 the neophyte population was 1357, stock 5024, horses 7Q2, sheep 12,060. The maximum of population was reached in 1827, of 1464 souls. After that it began rapidly to decline. The crops, too, were smaller after 1820, without any apparent reason.

In 1837 secularization was effected by Ramon Estrada. In 183940 reports show that two-thirds of the cattle and sheep had disappeared. The downfall of the Mission was very rapid. The neophyte population in 1832 was 1125, in 1834 about 800, and at the end of the decade about 290, with 150 more scattered in the district.

The totals of baptisms from 1777 to 1834 is 8640, of deaths 6950.

The old register of marriages records 3222 weddings from January 12, 1778, to August 15, 1863.

In 1833 Padre Viader closed his missionary service of nearly forty years in California by leaving the country, and Padre Francisco Garcia Diego, the prefect of the Zacatecan friars, became his successor. Diego afterwards became the first bishop of California.

In July, 1839, a party called Yozcolos, doubtless after their leader, attacked the neophytes guarding the Santa Clara wheat-fields, killing one of them. The attackers were pursued, and their leader slain, and the placing of his head on a pole seemed to act as a deterrent of further acts for awhile.

In December of the same year Prado Mesa made an expedition against gentile thieves in the region of the Stanislaus River. He was surprised by the foe, three of his men killed, and he and six others wounded, besides losing a number of his weapons. This Indian success caused great alarm, and a regular patrol was organized to operate between San Jose and San Juan Missions for the protection of the ranchos. This uprising of the Indians was almost inevitable. Deprived of their maintenance at the Missions, they were practically thrown on their own resources, and in many cases this left them a prey to the evil leadership of desperate men of their own class.

Santa Clara was one of the Missions immediately affected by the decree of Micheltorena, of March 29, 1843, requiring that the padres reassume the management of the temporalities. They set to work to gather up what fragments they could find, but the flocks and herds were " lent " where they could not be recovered, and one flock of 4000 sheep the padre says 6000 were taken by M. J. Vallejo, " legally, in aid of the government."

Pio Pico's decree of June 5, 1845, affected Santa Clara. Andres Pico made a valuation of the property at $16,173. There were then 130 ex-neophytes, the live-stock had dwindled down to 430 cattle, 215 horses, and 809 sheep. The padre found it necessary to write a sharp letter to the alcalde of San Jose on the grog-shops of that pueblo, which encouraged drinking among his Indians to such extent that they were completely demoralized.

Santa Clara saw exciting times both at the revolution against Micheltorena and against the Americans after Fremont had gone South. In the latter there were about 200 native Californians to 100 of the Americans from San Francisco ; but the " fight " amounted to nothing, and when the forces from San Francisco entered Santa Clara Mission, a truce was arranged, the complaints of the Californians only listened to, recorded on paper, promised re-dress, and the conflict was over.

Santa Clara Mission was now a regular parish church, Padre Real becoming the parish priest. In 1846 he was authorized to sell the Mission lands to pay debts and support himself and the church; and certain men afterwards claimed they bought the orchard and buildings belonging to it for $1200. But the courts afterwards decided that their pretended deed was fraudulent. Immigrants gave the padre considerable trouble by taking possession of the Mission buildings, but the Governor threatened to evict them by force, so they came to the padre's terms.

March 19, 1851, the parish priest, who was a cultivated and learned Jesuit, and who had prepared the way, succeeded in having the Santa Clara College established in the old Mission buildings. On the 28th of April, 1855, it was chartered with all the rights and privileges of a university. In due time the college grew to large proportions, and it was found imperative either to remove the old Mission structure completely, or renovate it out of all recognition. This latter was done, so that but little of the old church remains.

In restoring it in 186162 the nave was allowed to re-main, but in 1885 it was found necessary to remove it. Its walls were five feet thick. The adobe bricks were thrown out upon the plaza behind the cross.

The present occupation of Santa Clara as a college as well as a church necessitated the adaptation of the old cloisters to meet the modern conditions. Therefore the casual visitor would scarcely notice that the reception-room into which he is ushered is a part of the old cloisters. The walls are about three feet thick, and are of adobe. In the garden the beams of the cloister roofs are to be seen.

The old Mission vineyard, where the grapes used to thrive, is now converted into a garden. A number of the old olive trees still remain. Two of the three original bells of the Mission still remain. One was broken and had to be recast in San Francisco.

On the altar, there are angels with flambeaux in their hands, of wooden carving. These are deemed the work of the Indians. There are also several old statues of the saints, including San Joaquin, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano, and Santa Colette. In the sodality chapel, also, there are statues of San Francisco and San Antonio. The altar rail of the restored Santa Clara church was made from the beams of the old Mission. These were of redwood, secured from the Santa Cruz mountains, and, I believe, are the earliest specimens of redwood used for lumber in California. The rich natural coloring and the beauty of the grain and texture have improved with the years. The old octagonal pulpit, though not now used, is restored and honored, standing upon a modern pedestal.

Santa Clara was noted for the longevity of some of its Indians. One of them, Gabriel, who died in 1891 or 1892 at the hospital in Salinas, claimed he was a grandfather when Serra came in 1767. He must have been over 150 years old when he died. Another, Inigo, was known to be 101 years of age at his death.

In a room in the college building is gathered together an interesting collection of articles belonging to the old Mission. Here are the chairs of the sanctuary, processional candlesticks, pictures, and the best bound book in the State an old choral. It rests on a stand at the end of the room. The lids are of wood, covered with thick leather and bound in very heavy bronze, with bosses half an inch high. Each corner also has bronze protuberances, half an inch long, that stand out on the bottom, or edge of the cover, so that they raise the whole book. The volume is of heaviest vellum and is entirely hand-written in red and black ; and though a century or more has passed since it was written it is clear and perfect. It has 139 pages. The brothers of the college have placed this inscription over it : " Ancient choral, whose wooden cover, leather bound and covered in bronze, came, probably, originally from Spain, and has age of some 500 years."

In a case which extends across the room are ancient vestments, the key of the old Mission, statuary brackets from the ancient altar, the altar bell, crown of thorns from the Mission crucifix, altar card-frames, and the rosary and crucifix that once belonged to Padre Magin Catala.

On the walls are some of the ancient paintings, one especially noteworthy. It is of Christ multiplying the loaves and fishes (John vi. 11). While it is not a great work of art, the benignity and sweetness of the Christ face redeems it from crudeness. With upraised right hand he is blessing the loaves which rest in his left hand, while the boy with the fishes kneels reverently at his feet.