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Romance of the Bells: The
California Missions in Art
October 23 - March 15, 2008
The Irvine Museum's
Romance of the Bells, one of the Museum's most successful exhibitions,
was organized in the Fall of 2004. Since then it has been traveling throughout
California, with showings at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, City of Lancaster
Museum, Napa Valley Museum, The California Museum in Sacramento, Grace Hudson
Museum, and Temecula Valley Museum. Romance of the Bells has finally
come home for exhibition at The Irvine Museum.
When people think of California, the visual image that
often comes up is that of a gentle land, with rolling hills of oak trees
and wildflowers, dotted with buildings of weathered adobe walls and red-tiled
roofs. These and other idyllic images of old California are rooted in the
romantic period of California's past that is associated with the missions.
Twenty-one California missions and a number of branch missions (asistencias)
were founded between 1769 and 1823, yet that brief period of barely 54 years
had a lasting effect on the artistic and social fabric of our Golden State.
Related excerpts from California, This Golden land
of Promise, by Joan Irvine Smith and Jean Stern
THE MISSIONS OF CALIFORNIA
- In 1769, while Portolá and Ortega were in the
north, looking for Monterey Bay, Junípero Serra, who had stayed
behind in San Diego, founded the first mission and named it after San Diego
de Alcalá. This particular "San Diego," whose name in
Latin is Saint Didicus, was born in Seville, sometime about 1400 and died
in 1463. He was a Franciscan monk who worked as a cook at the Capuchin
Convent in Alcalá de Hernares, a small town near Madrid that was
known for its university and later, as the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes.
- Upon Portolá's return to San Diego, on January
24, 1770, he reported to Serra that he had followed Vizcaíno's maps
and took into account his descriptions but, unfortunately, had not found
Monterey. Yet, Serra was certain that they had indeed reached it when Portolá
described the marvelous peninsula north of San Simeon.
- On April 16, 1770, Serra set sail for Monterey while
Portolá set out on foot again, taking with him all sixteen of the
remaining able-bodied soldiers. On June 1, the San Antonio, with
Fathers Junípero Serra and Juan Crespí aboard, finally reached
Monterey. Sailing north along the coast into the prevailing winds, it had
taken the ship longer to reach Monterey than the party traveling on foot.
- On June 3, Father Serra founded the mission at Monterey
and Portolá dedicated the Monterey Presidio. Portolá then
supervised the construction of a group of temporary buildings within the
stockade that would serve as the headquarters of the presidio. At the same
time, housing was built for his soldiers. With that done, on July 9, 1770,
Gaspár de Portolá, one of the most capable and resourceful
persons in the history of California, turned over military command of the
presidio to his assistant Pedro Fages, and returned to Mexico, never to
set foot in California again.
- Not long after the founding of the mission, Father Serra
became dissatisfied with its location. He realized that the there were
too few Indians in the area and furthermore, the soil was too rocky for
agriculture. Also, there is reason to believe that for the protection of
the Indian neophytes, he intended to distance the mission from the soldiers
at the presidio. He selected a site in the Carmel River valley, about 5
miles south of the presidio, and moved the mission.
- With the missions in San Diego and Carmel in operation,
the system of missions along El Camino Real was expanded by establishing
a new mission halfway between existing ones, until each was connected to
another by roughly the distance of one day's travel. After San Antonio
de Padua, established in 1771, the series of missions continued with San
Gabriel Arcángel (1771), San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (1772), San Francisco
de Asís (Mission Dolores) (1776), San Juan Capistrano (1776), Santa
Clara de Asís (1777), and San Buenaventura (1782).
- After Serra's death in 1784, Father Fermín Francisco
de Lasuén became Father-President of the missions. Lasuén
continued building the chain of missions by adding Santa Barbara (1786),
La Purísima Concepción (1787), Santa Cruz (1791), Nuestra
Señora de la Soledád (1791), San José de Guadalupe
(1797), San Juan Bautista (1797), San Miguel Arcángel (1797), San
Fernando Rey de España (1797), and San Luis Rey de Francia (1798).
After Lasuén's death, in 1803, missions were built in Santa Inés
(1804), San Rafael Arcángel (1817), and San Francisco Solano (Sonoma,
- In addition to the twenty-one missions along El Camino
Real, the Franciscans opened several asistencias, or branch missions,
such as the Mission San Antonio de Pala, founded in 1816. There are also
a number of churches and chapels in Indian villages, such as the presidio
church at Monterey and the pueblo church in Los Angeles, which grew in
importance but are not usually termed "missions." Likewise, the
chapel at Santa Margarita became an asistencia of Mission San Luis Obispo;
the chapel at San Bernardino became an asistencia of Mission San Gabriel;
San Pedro or Las Flores Chapel, a ranchería (Indian village) church,
became an asistencia of Mission San Luis Rey; and Santa _sabel, in San
Diego County, was also a ranchería chapel and later became an asistencia.
- Founding missions was only one aspect of the coordinated
and well-tested process used by Spanish colonizers for centuries. Concurrent
with the establishment of missions was the founding of pueblos (towns)
and presidios or military installations.
- An additional facet of the Spanish colonial process was
that the enormous amount of land attached to the missions was to be held
in trust for the Indians who, when ready, would take ownership. The entire
process of civilizing the Indians was supposed to take ten years. In a
typical mission, two padres were supposed to teach Christianity, farming
and a number of trades to as many as 2,000 Indians. Moreover, Indians who
had lived in a particular pattern for thousands of years, were supposed
to cast off their old culture and live in a way that was completely alien
to them, one that was often hard to understand.
- The culture shock was too great for the Indians and the
transition too difficult. They did not assimilate and instead, their right
to live according to an age-old culture pattern was forfeited as the dominant
Spanish culture took its place. According to Monsignor Francis Day Weber,
noted Californian historian, the Franciscans had often opposed premature
colonization, fearing the Indians were not prepared and would be in jeopardy.
The missions, they had hoped, would be allowed enough time to teach the
Indians to survive in a Spanish culture. But, ten years was not enough
time, nor would fifty be.
- -- From: CALIFORNIA, THIS GOLDEN LAND OF PROMISE,
by Joan Irvine Smith and Jean Stern
THE PORTOLÁ EXPEDITION
- From as far back as the early 1540s, Spain had explored
the coast of California. The motivation had always been the search for
wealth but in spite of numerous tales and rumors of Indian treasure, no
gold or jewels had ever been found. Thereafter, California was essentially
abandoned until 1769, when Spain moved to establish permanent colonies
- This abrupt change of course came as a result of the
Seven Years War of 1756 to1763, called the French and Indian War in the
United States. The British, who had just defeated the French in North America,
had taken possession of Canada and were casting aspirations southward into
Oregon and beyond to California. Furthermore, the Russian Empire was expanding
its base of operations in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest by establishing
fur trapping settlements just north of California.
- To protect his distant part of the Empire, King Carlos
III of Spain ordered José de Gálvez, the Inspector General
of Spain, to prepare a plan for the establishment of a number of missions,
pueblos (towns) and presidios (forts) throughout California.
Gálvez selected Father Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest,
to establish the missions, and Gaspár de Portolá, the governor
of Baja California, to secure a military presence with the presidios.
- Junípero Serra (1713-1784) was born in Petra,
a small village on the island of Majorca, Spain. He was baptized under
the name Miguel José Serra. His father, who worked as a quarryman
or sometimes as a farm worker, was Antonio Serra and his mother was Margarita
Ferrer. His paternal grandmother was named Juana Abram, most likely from
a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition.
- On January 9, 1769, part of the expedition left La Paz
on two ships, the San Carlos and the San Antonio. The sea
voyage from La Paz to San Diego took 110 days.
- The second part, the land expedition led by Portolá,
arrived in San Diego on May 15. Along with their supplies, Portolá's
expedition brought 200 head of cattle, the ancestors of the great herds
that would later roam California. By the time all parties and ships reached
San Diego, about one hundred of the men who had come by sea had died of
- The expedition set out from San Diego on July 14, with
Portolá in command. The party numbered sixty-four in total, with
Father Juan Crespí and Father Francisco Gómez as spiritual
advisors. Father Serra stayed in San Diego because of a severely infected
- Sergeant José Francisco Ortega, the chief scout,
and seven soldiers went ahead to mark the path. Their destination was the
harbor at Monterey, discovered by Vizcaíno 167 years earlier. Along
the way, they charted potential locations for missions, presidios and pueblos.
- Continuing north, on July 22 they entered what is now
Orange County where Father Crespí baptized two Indian children not
far from present-day San Clemente. The soldiers called the village site
El Cañon de Los Cristianitos (the Canyon of the Little Christians.)
- On July 26, the expedition came to a large river which
they found difficult to cross. As it was the Feast Day of Saint Anne, Portolá
named the river Rio de Santa Ana. The party camped by the river
for a couple of days, during which time they experienced a series of earthquakes.
Alarmed by these events, the padres re-named the river Rio de Jesús
de los Temblores (River of Jesus of the Earthquakes) but the soldiers
continued to refer to the river as well as the valley as "Santa Ana."
- On August 2, the party camped by a river which they named
Rio de Nuestra Señora la Reina de Los Ángeles de Porciúncula
(Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of the Small Portion), whose Feast Day
is August 1. The site was recorded as ideal for future settlement. Years
later, on September 4, 1781, a city bearing the same long name, now called
simply Los Angeles, was founded on this site.
- On September 13, when they reached what is today San
Simeon, on the central California coast, the explorers were forced to turn
inland, as the coastal plain was blocked by the range of rugged mountains,
the Sierra de Santa Lucia, which turned directly into the Pacific
Ocean. They crossed over the range and emerged in the Salinas Valley, and
following the Salinas River northward for several days, Portolá
and his men reached a hill that overlooked a large, open bay. Although
they had unknowingly found the Monterey Peninsula, they concluded otherwise
as the harbor did not meet Vizcaíno's exaggerated description.
- Thinking Monterey was yet to the north, the expedition
continued to present-day San Francisco. Finally, on November 2, a group
of soldiers who had been sent out to hunt deer, reached the northern tip
of the San Francisco Peninsula and became the first white men to see the
body of water now called the Golden Gate.
- On November 11, Portolá was forced to turn back
as the generally poor health of his men and their inability to cross San
Francisco Bay prevented them from going any farther north. They retraced
their steps to Monterey, remaining there from November 27 to December 10,
still trying to find Vizcaíno's harbor. The weather grew miserable
and supplies were dwindling. Discouraged at his apparent failure to complete
his mission, Portolá ordered an immediate return to San Diego.
- -- From: CALIFORNIA, THIS GOLDEN LAND OF PROMISE,
by Joan Irvine Smith and Jean Stern
CALIFORNIA, THIS GOLDEN LAND OF PROMISE. published in 2001, is a profusely illustrated book the presents
the history of California in a highly readable and entertaining format.
Written by Joan Irvine Smith and Jean Stern, with a timeline by James Irvine
Swinden. Published by Chapman University and The Irvine Museum. 368 pages,
9x12 inches, 405 color plates and 88 black and white images, extensive timeline,
bibliography and index. The book is available through the Museum's bookstore.
(above: Sydney Laurence (1865-1940), The Evening Star,
Mission Capistrano, Oil on canvas, 20 x 16 inches. Private Collection,
Courtesy of The Irvine Museum)
(above: Julie DeForest Morrow (1882-1978), In the Mission
Garden, Capistrano, Oil on canvas, 26 x 30 inches. Courtesy of The Irvine
Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:
Resource Library wishes to
extend appreciation to Judy Thompson, Director of Media, The Irvine Museum
for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above texts.
Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional
source by visiting the sub-index page for the The
Irvine Museum in Resource Library.
(above: Mission Santa Barbara as seen from the Mission Rose
Garden at Los Olivos and Laguna Streets, Santa Barbara, CA. Photo ©
2011 by Barbara Hazeltine)
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