18th century Vera Cruz
Arriving in the New World, Father Serra was 36 years old. He was described as swarthy, of medium height [5' 2” was considered medium in the 18th Century], with sparkling black eyes and black hair formed in a tonsure – a ring about the head with a bald pate. His youthful ill health must have disappeared because Father Serra engaged with deep fervor in the self-inflicted physical penances that were common among the friars in those days. In that part of the Mass when the priest exclaimed, “My guilt! My guilt! My most grievous guilt!” and struck themselves on the breast with their fist, Father Serra went even further, holding a stone in his hand which he used to strike his breast. He was also know to place a burning torch to his bare chest, and purging himself with a whip until the blood ran – all as an example to the congregation. He kept long vigils with little sleep. He never complained about things that came his way and seemed to invite suffering. He lived on herbs, fish, fruit, and tortillas, disliking meat for very fond of drinking chocolate – which in those days was a very tart quaff.
In 1749, the government had the responsibility for transporting newly arrived priests from the port of Veracruz the 270 miles over rough terrain to Mexico City. This was one of the very few times when the friars were allowed to ride horses or mules. They were otherwise expected to walk, although mules or donkeys could carry the religious articles needed to conduct the various rites. This was because the fathers were weak from their voyage.