Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Father Serra - Part III

The Districts of Spain

We've reached the stage of Father Serra's life that will make him a legend lasting centuries after his death – the founding of the California missions.

I need to point something out here – Spain, like all European nations, was the realm of kings. Carlos the Third was another in a long list dating back to when the peninsula was a province of Rome called Iberia. Also, Spain was steeped in traditions of the Rights of Kings granted by God. A caste system existed that was complicated and strictly adhered to.

Spain was divided into provinces, but some were more equal than others. Castile, Seville, and Aragon were paramount. Those in the south that had, for centuries been ruled by the Moors, were lower in importance. Catalonia was a tad lower and the outer areas such as the Balearic Islands that included Majorca were less.

Spain had further refined the caste system in the New World. Peninsulares held the highest positions – to include the Archbishop of Mexico. It was only with the religious orders, Jesuits, Franciscan, Dominicans, and Capuchins that such divisions were not so strictly adhered to. The breakdown is roughly as follows;

Criollos [or Creoles as known in Louisiana] were those of Spanish blood born in the New World. They were considered Spanish but were not allowed to hold the highest positions.

Mestizos were those born of mixed blood, usually Spanish and Indian.

And then came the Mulatos, those of Spanish and African or African and Indian.

The lowest were, of course, the Indians. Heathens. Savages. Children in need of guidance. The friars referred to them as Gentiles.

A Chumash Indian

With this in mind, we find Father Serra walking among the Gentiles, bringing them The Word of God. Meanwhile, discussions are underway at the highest level of the Spanish court that will affect the rest of the priest's life.

Word reaches Madrid and Mexico City that Russians, led by a Captain Bering, are trading for luxurious furs with the Indians of the far northwest coast of America. This is felt to be a danger to Spain's claim that reaches as far north as present day Vancouver. The King has already appointed a member of the court to oversee and audit the finances of the Indies, Visitador General José de Gálvez y Gallardo, Marqués de Sonora born 1720, in Macharavialla, Spain. Gálvez, along with Viceroy Carlos Francisco de Croix, Marquis of Croix, sent for permission to expand the missions currently under Jesuit control in the Californias.

The king of France, Louis XV, put a little kink in things when he became angry with the Jesuits who, he felt, meddled in his affairs and had hoarded huge amounts of treasure, not paying tribute to him. He demanded that Rome remove the Black Robes from America and replace them with more loyal orders.

As all the Lower California missions were under Jesuit control, Gálvez and de Croix, went to the guardian of the seminary of San Fernando and asked them to appoint Franciscans to replace them. He also tasked the guardian with having the friars extend the missions north to the Bay of Monte Rey, a sterling harbor found by earlier Spanish explorers. All of this was to be done in cooperation with Don Gaspar de Portolá, who would be the lieutenant governor of Alta or Upper California. He would be free of interference from Governor Armona in Loreto.

The electors of the Apostolic College of San Fernando elected the most able friar they had to be President Guardian of the California missions – none other than Father Serra.

He wasn't even at the college to know that such deliberations were underway – he was away from Mexico City acting as a home missionary, visiting various churches and missions to preach The Word of God.

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