Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mission Life

The first thing to consider is the frugal life of the friars.

The image of the short, plump balding friar, which many people hold, was far from the case. Friars came in all sizes and shapes. Each wore a gray colored robe (habit) made of wool with a hood, the dress of a medieval beggar. Around his waist was tied a rope known as a Cincture. The Cincture had three knots tied in it to remind the friar of his vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Hanging from the Cincture was a rosary and cross so he could pray and reflect upon the Mysteries of Christ's Life. He also had a pouch to carry a few personal things, such as a prayer book or journal; a large brimmed hat and a walking staff. A friar did not carry or handle money nor did he ride a horse when traveling. Friars traveled most of the time by foot, using a horse or donkey only for long trips or those journeys with time constrictions. (A Day in the Life of a Friar
by Tom Davis)
So what was the daily life of a friar like during the Mission period of California? One thing for sure, it was not one of Sangrias and Fandangos. Nor was it one of slave masters or sadistic over-lords who saw the Native Californian as chattel. It was a life of hard work and sacrifice, of cooperation and faith by all. The Franciscans of California began and ended each day with prayer. As priests, they made a promise to pray for the needs of the universal church as well as for their own individual needs. Thus, seven times during the day were set aside in which they prayed their prayers and the Divine Office, starting as early as 2:00 am. They rose at sunrise and began the day with Morning Prayer and meditation, then celebrated mass around 7:00 am, followed by the Doctrina in the Church. After church a simple breakfast. The friars ate bread, fresh fruit, milk, eggs, vegetables, soup and, on special occasions, cheese, fish and red meat.
Here is their daily schedule”
9:00 am – Work with the children, teaching them religion, music, language, etc.
10:00 am – Visit the sick and elderly.
11:00 am – Have their midday meal of fruit, soup, milk, and bread. Usually gruel called atole.
12:00 noon – To pray the Angelus and other midday prayers. Followed by a siesta of several hours – usually two.
2:00 pm – Friars continued to visit, counsel or write letters and reports.
3:00 pm – Say the Rosary or other prayers and devotions.
4:00 pm – Worked with children, especially instructing them in music or games.
5:00 pm – More prayers and the Doctrina in the Chapel
6:00 pm – recite Vespers or evening prayer
7:00 pm - Light evening meal of soup, bread, or fruit. They would then relax, read, play cards of socialize until night prayer and bed, usually not much later than 9:00 pm. They would then awaken at 2:00 am to start all over again.
In many cases, the socializing might be enjoying the evening entertainment by local musicians in the mission plaza.
The friars shared their own personal talents and hobbies with the Native Californians, showing the Indians, for example, how to paint, sing, and play musical instruments. The friars shared their lives with those they came to serve and learned to love.

Mission San Diego in background

Daily Life of Missionaries
Each mission had two friars with an escort of five presidials [the soldados de cuera] led by a corporal. As much as possible, an effort was made to assign soldiers with wives and children. The single ones served at the presidios.
Life at the California missions varied slightly throughout the entire system. Once a "gentile" was baptized, he or she became a neophyte, or new believer. This happened only after a brief period during which the initiates were instructed in the most basic aspects of the Catholic faith. However, while many natives were lured to join the missions out of curiosity and sincere desire to participate and engage in trade, many found themselves trapped once they received the sacrament of baptism. To the padres, a baptized Indian was no longer free to move about the country, but had to labor and worship at the mission under the strict observance of the fathers and overseers, who herded them to daily masses and labors. If an Indian did not report for their duties for a period of a few days, they were searched for, and if it was discovered that they left without permission, they were considered runaways. Some were allowed to return to their home villages for certain important events such as planting or harvest – and some religious events.

Any of those who left without permission were hunted down by the presidials and returned to the mission for punishment. NO, they were NOT whipped! Most punishment, as indicated in earlier posts, was public humiliation and possibly being placed in solitude for a period. In certain cases, they would be publicly “spanked”, another form of humiliation. In all cases, the friars spent considerable time explaining what the failure was to the miscreant and the congregation. The friars punished neophytes for other offenses too, such as lack of attention in worship services. They used whipping, confinement in stocks and other punishments they thought necessary to Christianize the Native Americans.

Sadly, unmarried women were locked in women’s quarters each night at the mission to prevent what the priests called promiscuity. This is because most California Indians did not believe in marriage in the European sense. Indian women selected their mates for survival traits and, when the mate did not perform, simply walked away and found another. This is one of the reasons they suffered from forms of venereal disease long before the arrival of the Spanish.

Why did the friars keep their baptized Indians close to the mission?

First, it was The Law of the Indies

Secondly, the missionaries had the gravest obligation to give them religious instruction.

Thirdly, they were burdened, not only with the duty of pastors, but also the responsibility of parents.

The friars allowed their neophytes to go home for 5 or 6 weeks per year but did not want them to have prolonged contact with un-Christianized Indians. They came under the Fourth Commandment of Honor thy father and mother, which the friars could not refuse.

First and foremost, the friars had parental responsibility for the Indians and failing to act to correct their sins placed those sins, in The Eye of God, strictly upon their backs!

For their part, the Indians were accustomed to have no set hours for anything to include breakfast, lunch or dinner but to spend the greater part of each day simply searching for food. They did not have a regular, reliable source of sustenance and were subject to the whims of nature. The faults that needed correction included theft of property from those who lived outside the tribal unit, divorce and remarriage for little or no reason, indulgence in promiscuity and, in some tribelets, in homosexuality, the practice of abortion, and in the tradition of taking human life as punishment for personal injuries.

Bells were vitally important to daily life at any mission.

The bells were rung at mealtimes, to call the Mission residents to work and to religious services, during births and funerals, to signal the approach of a ship or returning missionary, and at other times; novices were instructed in the intricate rituals associated with the ringing the mission bells. The daily routine began with sunrise Mass and morning prayers, followed by instruction of the natives in the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith. After a generous (by era standards) breakfast of atole, [cornmeal] the able-bodied men and women were assigned their tasks for the day. The women were committed to dressmaking, knitting, weaving, embroidering, laundering, and cooking, while some of the stronger girls would grind flour or carry adobe bricks (weighing 55 lb, or 25 kg each) to the men engaged in building. The men were tasked with a variety of jobs, having learned from the missionaries how to plow, sow, irrigate, cultivate, reap, thresh, and glean. In addition, they were taught to build adobe houses, tan leather hides, shear sheep, weave rugs and clothing from wool, make ropes, soap, paint, and other useful duties.

The goal of the missions was, above all, to become self-sufficient in relatively short order. Farming, therefore, was the most important industry of any mission. {That was good as most of the Franciscans came from farms or farming villages] Barley, maize, and wheat were among the most common crops grown. Cereal grains were dried and ground by stone into flour. Even today, California is well known for the abundance and many varieties of fruit trees that are cultivated throughout the state. The only fruits indigenous to the region, however, consisted of wild berries or grew on small bushes. Spanish missionaries brought fruit seeds over from Europe, many of which had been introduced to the Old World from Asia following earlier expeditions to the continent; orange, grape, apple, peach, pear, and fig seeds were among the most prolific of the imports. Grapes were also grown and fermented into wine for sacramental use and again, for trading. The specific variety, called the Criolla or "Mission grape," was first planted at Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1779; in 1783, the first wine produced in Alta California emerged from the mission's winery.
Mission San Gabriel Arcángel would unknowingly witness the origin of the California citrus industry with the planting of the region’s first significant orchard in 1804, though the commercial potential of citrus would not be realized until 1841. Olives (first cultivated at Mission San Diego de Alcalá) were grown, cured, and pressed under large stone wheels to extract their oil, both for use at the mission and to trade for other goods. Father Serra set aside a portion of the Mission Carmel gardens in 1774 for tobacco plants, a practice which soon spread throughout the mission system.
It was also the missions' responsibility to provide the Spanish forts, or "presidios", with the necessary foodstuffs, and manufactured goods to sustain operations. It was a constant point of contention between missionaries and the soldiers as to how many fanegas of barley, or how many shirts or blankets the mission had to provide the garrisons on any given year. At times, these requirements were hard to meet, especially during years of drought, or when the much-anticipated shipments from the port of San Blas failed to arrive. The Spaniards kept meticulous records of mission activities, and each year reports submitted to the Father-President summarizing both the material and spiritual status at each of the settlements.

Livestock was raised, not only for the purpose of obtaining meat, but also for wool, leather, and tallow, and for cultivating the land. In 1832, at the height of their prosperity, the missions collectively owned:
151,180 head of cattle;
137,969 sheep;
14,522 horses;
1,575 mules or burros;
1,711 goats; and
1,164 swine.
All of these animals were originally brought up from Mexico. A great many Indians were required to guard the herds and flocks, which created the need for "...a class of horsemen scarcely surpassed anywhere." These animals multiplied beyond the settler's expectations, often overrunning pastures and extending well-beyond the domains of the missions. The giant herds of horses and cows took well to the climate and the extensive pastures of the Coastal California region, but at a heavy price for the Native inhabitants. The uncontrolled spread of these new species quickly exhausted the grasslands and hillsides the Indians depended on for their seed harvests. This problem was also recognized by the Spaniards themselves, who at times sent out extermination parties to kill thousands of excess livestock, when the populations grew beyond their control. Mission kitchens and bakeries prepared and served thousands of meals each day.
Candles, soap, grease, and ointments were all made from tallow (rendered animal fat) in large vats located just outside the west wing. Also situated in this general area were vats for dyeing wool and tanning leather, and primitive looms for weaving. Large bodegas (warehouses) provided long-term storage for preserved foodstuffs and other treated materials.
Each mission had to fabricate virtually all of its construction materials from local materials. Workers in the carpintería (carpentry shop) used crude methods to shape beams, lintels, and other structural elements; more skilled artisans carved doors, furniture, and wooden implements. For certain applications bricks (ladrillos) were fired in ovens (kilns) to strengthen them and make them more resistant to the elements; when tejas (roof tiles) eventually replaced the conventional jacal roofing (densely packed reeds) they were placed in the kilns to harden them as well. Glazed ceramic pots, dishes, and canisters were also made in mission kilns.

I'll leave it to the reader to determine the pluses and minuses of this era. Did the loss of their native ways somehow destroy an important stage of society? Or did brining Europeans ways improve their lives? Were the restrictions fair or a form of slavery as some modern apologists call it?

In any cases, what are your views of this? Love to hear them.

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