Father Serra - Missionary

Father Serra - Missionary
Always forward, never back

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Misión San Antonio de Padua

1830 – A bright Oasis

There is no bell tower, husband.”

That also surprised James. How did they call the Gentiles to prayers and Mass?

They had also expected to see the mission a little over a league before it came into view after seeing the cattle with the mission brand grazing around them.

Unlike Misión San Luis Obispo, Gentiles worked in the fields and gardens, along with several shepherds watching over flocks of the four-horned sheep. Some ranchers had begun to complain about allowing sheep to graze the same land as cattle. Sheep chewed the grass very close to the earth and had to be frequently moved in order not to overgraze the land.

The sentry at the gate stood to attention, challenging them as they drew near. While his uniform was heavily patched and well-worn, it was clean and worn with pride. As they introduced themselves, a friar came to the gate and called out a welcome. Both had met Padre Juan Morena when he had first come to Monte Rey and he recognized them. The mayordomo rushed up and, at Padre Morena's direction, showed them to the stables, having workers bring fresh hay for the animals and a huge pile of fresh straw for them.

Once they had their duties performed, the friar proudly showed them the mission quadrangle. Beside the chandlery and tanning area, several large rooms held looms for weaving the wool from the ample herds, a smithy, a carpentry – the occupant knowing Teresa's father – and all of the other shops needed to provide everything to sustain the mission, along with goods shipped both north and south to the presidios.

They had also seen why the chapel did not have a belfry as a single, large bell, hung on timbers in front of the main entrance.

When it came time to establish the mission, it was the only bell left for here. We have long waited for another and our blacksmith, as good as he is, has never been able to cast an adequate bell to add.” Padre Morena went to the sacristy to prepare for prayers, giving them a chance to view the interior of the chapel.

The murals on the walls and ceiling took their breath away.

It is clearly Padre Munrás' work,” James observed. “Just as beautiful as what he painted and supervised at San Carlos.”

Atop the statue of San Miguel perched just above the crucifix was un ojo de la Providencia, or the All-Seeing Eye of God. The stones of the floor had been carefully hewn and quite even, the steps leading up to the altar equally worked with great care. Padre Munrás' influence was clear in the choir loft high in the back wall and, well before Vespers began, two dozen young men softly began to sing sacred songs they had been taught by the worthy friar.

They also noted that, unlike other chapels, there were no alcoves to make it into the form of the cross. Instead, two statues were dedicated to San José y Santa Maria.

While Padre Morena had his own kitchen and dining area, he preferred to eat his meals with the disciples in the area provided for the unmarried ones. The normal fare they had enjoyed to date was beef or pork. So, it was a surprise when they were served mutton, large chunks swimming in a tasty broth.

Wolves attacked one of the herds,” Padre Morena explained. “The shepherd was a young boy and had nothing but his staff and two dogs to try to run them off. We believe they were desperate to feed their litters and were not satisfied until they had killed three ewes.” He went on to explain that the boy's cries had brought others. The wolves managed to carry away two animals but were forced to leave the third behind. “At least we recovered some of her wool,” the friar said.

When asked about the extent of the flocks and herds, they learned the missions lands stretched a little over five leagues north and south, nineteen leagues to the east, and all the way to the ocean to the west, a bit over ten leagues. “We have tried to reach out to the Gentiles in the large valley to the east without success.”

He further told them, “"From the mission to the beach, the land consists almost entirely of mountain ridges. For this reason, it is not occupied until it reaches the coast where the mission has a house of adobe where eight hundred cattle and breeding mares are kept at the rancho called San Simeon. The land to toward the south is occupied, for the mission there maintains all its sheep, besides animals for the guards. It is called Rancho de Santa Isabel with a small vineyard. Other mission ranchos in that direction are San Antonio, where barley is planted; Rancho del Paso de Robles, where wheat is sown; and Rancho de la Asunción."

Teresa muttered something that only James heard. Examining her face, he decided to repeat it to the friar. “The land is most tempting to those who wish to expand their own possessions, reverend father.

The friar's eyes filled with sadness. “Ah yes, my children, secularization. The direction the government in Mexico wishes to take us.” He further explained that offers had been made to the disciples to own their own lands. “Not one of them wished to do so. As one, they all responded that they did not wish to live without a priest here to guide their worldly and spiritual life.”

After a long pause to listen to an especially beautiful tune played by disciple musicians in the plaza, he added, “I am afraid that if they go through with this plan, my children will leave. They have no place to go and no manner in which to return to what they once were. They will become peones of the rancheros.”

It is what we have heard at every mission on this journey,” James told the friar.


James sighed his contentment.

Teresa giggled, delighted by the soothing heat and moisture.

She is still as beautiful as when I first saw her unclothed, James thought.

At Padre Morena's urging, they decided to spent an extra day in order to enjoy the benefits of the steaming mud baths near the mission. A shelter had been built for the non-Gentiles and the two had gladly accepted. Away from prying eyes, they had disrobed and, after cleansing themselves in the heated pools of water, had moved to the pit filled with bubbling mud.

I remember father talking of the time he and Father President Lausén had enjoyed these same baths.”

Well, my love, when we finish here, I will take our clothes to where the women disciples wash theirs. And they should dry quickly.”

Can we also lave the animal blankets and bedding?”

Teresa saw no reason not to. So, after about a turn of the hour glass, they washed away the mud and donned fresh clothing. Teresa received lots of help from several women at the washing area. Meanwhile, James led the four animals to a spot downstream and took one at a time into the stream to wash thoroughly with yucca root soap. The animals shivered in delight, neighing their pleasure.

A thorough brushing and each animal was turned loose to graze. James burst out laughing when the roan rolled over and over in the tall grass. The other three soon followed. Only the mule stayed aloof from the others. All the horses rose to feed, their coats shining in the sunlight.

The break allowed them to attend to the remainder of their gear, repairing minor tears in leather, applying kneads-foot oil to smooth and make it supple. It was especially good for their boots.

That animal has been sitting there watching us for a long time, husband.”

James nodded. He had seen the dog come out of a stand of manzanita some distance away. It had shown no threatening signs, simply sitting with its tongue hanging out in the heat of the day. “It is not a coyote and does not seem to be a dog like those at the mission.”

Teresa nodded. “Perhaps it is a cross breed. Part wolf and part dog.”

They had discussed whether to eat at the mission or make their own dinner fire. The question was solved when they spied a buck grazing about a hundred yards away. Before James could reach for his rifle, Teresa had hers in hand, aimed, and fired. The buck raised its head and looked around, appearing to seek what had stung it. His hind quarters buckled and he dropped to the ground, finally laying its head down. Teresa quickly reached the animal and with one quick move, slashed upon its jugular to let the blood flow into the grass.

Meanwhile, the dog stayed where it had crouched down in the grass, just lifting its ears and following what the humans did.

It took but moments to erect a pole upon which to hang the carcass so it could bleed out and let them open the belly to remove the innards.

Without thinking, James tossed the liver to the dog that instantly snatched it up and settled down to eat it.

You might be making a friend, husband?”

Would that be a bad idea?”

The gunshot brought the mayordomo and two disciples. They beamed when Teresa told them she only wanted part of the deer and they could have the rest. They also watched as she expertly cut away the part she wanted, having sliced the hide without separating it from the full hide.

While she did that, James established their camp, gathering dry wood and starting a fire in a stone-lined pit. He pulled the small iron pot from the pack and filled it with water from the stream, setting it atop two flat rocks in the edge of the fire. Some wild onions, a few select grasses, some corn and herbs soon bubbled. A spit was set up and Teresa soon slid thick slabs of the venison on it to cook in the fire.

The dog watched them, just out of arm's reach.

Carefully surveying the area, James realized the site they had picked would be a good place to spend the night. It was under the wide spreading limbs of a very old live oak with a thick carpet of leaves to roll the bedroll over. Plenty of nearby grazing meant their animals would not stray far.

And I think Dog will warn us of any danger.”


What else should I call him?” James asked.

Teresa responded with a chuckle, turning back to tend to the meal.

The sweet aroma of roasting venison filled the evening air. They heard the mission bell calling all to Vespers. Instead of leaving their camp, the recited the various prayers as their dinner cooked.

It was ready by the time they softly said, “Amen. Y gracias al Dios por todos.

Several strips of venison were yet to be cooked. Seeing Dog crouched just beyond the camp, James picked one up and softly whistled. He was unsure what the animal would do and smiled when it crept closer on its belly. When the dog stopped, unable to come nearer, James tossed the piece of meat and the dog leapt up, grasping it in his jaws. He settled down and, holding it between his fore-paws, busily gnawed on it. His tail wagged rapidly in pleasure.

They bedded down when but half of the dull-gold orb appeared above the horizon. James rolled himself in the blanket, close to Teresa, glancing to see what Dog was doing.

A pair of glowing golden eyes stared back at him, as Dog settled in for the night just outside the ring of light from the lowering campfire.


Did your father ever tell you why they went this way?”

James replied, “They were seeking the fastest way to return to the sea so as not to miss Bahia Monte Rey

Dog had not strayed during the night, staying close to their camp. He watched carefully, tongue hanging out, as they rose and made their preparations to depart. He eagerly gulped down the two half-cooked pieces of venison James tossed his way.

And, as they rode away, he followed to one side at a distance.

Tule reeds towered over their heads as they rode alongside the lake in River San Antonio flowing from the valley ahead of them. Massive trees grew everywhere, clearly for the reason of the name Valley of Oaks. Once past the lake, the mission appeared. Wispy clouds partially covered the hills, even that late in the day.

The facade with three large arched openings with belfries containing one large and two tall bells had only recently been completed. They had both heard the stories of the big bell Reverend Father Serra had so heartily rung while called for Gentiles to come and hear the word of the lord.

Disciples bustled about the pueblo of Misión San Antonio de Padua performing chores in preparation for evening prayers and meal. A shepherd watched over a flock of sheep further up the canyon and a group of three vaqueros hunched around a campfire further away where several small herds of cattle grazed.

The sentry at the gate into the quadrangle proudly stood in his garrison uniform. Although there had never been an uprising and no known bandits were in the area, it was a sign of caring about his duty of protecting the mission.

A corporal stepped forward and saluted him with a big grin on his face. “Don Jaime. Doña Teresa. What brings you to our humble mission? And from the south?”

They dismounted and embraced their old friend, Corporal Castro, from the Presidio del Monte Rey. He led them inside to the stables and chuckled when they refused the assistance of a young disciple with their animals. He knew full well of their upbringing to care for their mounts themselves – just as his fellow leatherjacket soldiers did.

They finished just as the bell for Vespers rang.

The dog is yours?”

Both had been aware of the animal's presence and were surprised to find it sitting on its haunches near the stable doors.

He seems to have adopted us, friend José.”

The soldier chuckled upon hearing the story and led them to the chapel. As they passed the small cemetery, he sadly said, “Our beloved Padre Sancho lies there. He passed from this world this past February.” When asked, he replied that nobody seemed to know, other than he had been advanced in years. “You know how the friars live. Long hours and little food. It is, to me, a miracle that any of them are still with us.” He then muttered, “And it will indeed be tragic when they are forced to leave.”

The first thing they saw was the huge wooden arch under the ceiling painted with gold and stars sprinkled all over it. They also noted the strange shape of the roof and the statue of the Archangel Michael high above. And, instead of slits as in most missions, the windows high in the wall were square, showing the thickness of the adobe.

When the prayers concluded, Padre Cabot walked to where they stood alongside the wall and embraced both after blessing them. “It is good to see you once again, children. What brings you here?” He then stopped and stammered his apologies. “You must be tired. And hungry. You can answer my questions later. Here. Come with me.” With that, he led them through the sacristy where he removed his robes and along the interior corridor to the communal dining area. The disciples awaited his arrival and he quickly gave thanks for the food.

The friar and corporal, who had forgone dinner with his family to dine with the guests, listened intently as they explained their journey – and the reason for it. Neither was surprised at the report of the various mission and pueblos.

I am afraid that la Purisima is but an omen of what is to come.”

James surprised himself by turning to José. “And what of you, old friend. Your family already has been granted several parcels of lands and established rancheros. What do you think of the proposed secularization?”

They had always known the soldier to be honest and forthright and were not surprised by his response.

The disciples will never be able to maintain the missions or herds as they are. Those of us Euros who will be appointed to administer the change will not be fully qualified to do so and many sad things will come to pass.”

Seeing their questioning eyes, he said, “The disciples will either waste away their parcels or simply return to the hills, trying to live as they did in the past.”

And they will not be successful.”

So what, José, will happen?”

Friend Jaime, the land will be granted to Califorños who will then take in the Gentiles as peones.”

Padre Cabot said nothing, but it was clear he agreed with the corporal.

There was still plenty of light and José gave them a quick tour of the missions grounds – after ensuring the sentry was changed.

The weaving room was most impressive with a dozen looms that produced some beautiful wool cloth.

The mission has always been fruitful from the day Reverend Father Serra founded it. In addition to good crops of olive turned into oil, we have extensive vineyards and orchards.” He continued to tell them they currently ran about eight thousand head of cattle, ten thousand sheep, several dozen horses, mules, and donkeys, along with many swine, goats, chickens, and even tame ducks.

Ranchos San Benito y San Bartolomo del Pleyto are where we keep sheep and lambs. Ranchos Los Ojitos y San Miguelito are for the cattle. All are within ten leagues of the mission.”

The evening musica was in full swing when they returned to the plaza and they noticed one elderly disciple sitting on a bench under one of the huge, spreading oaks. Several children surrounded him, all smiling and talking among themselves. The mans rheumy eyes brightened at seeing the guests and he managed to make a motion calling them closer.

This is Adam,” José told them.

Teresa dropped to one knee and took the mans hand gnarled with the years. “Our fathers were here when you came at the calling of the bell by Reverend Father Serra.”

It took Adam a moment to understand who they spoke of, his toothless mouth forming a smile. They had to move closer to hear the words he said, “I will soon be with el Reverendo Padres, mis hijas. They are looking over us.”

The effort tired the old man who, as a youth, had responded to Reverend Father Serra's call for the Gentiles to come to hear The Word of God.

The one thing they noticed was how several young girls busily swept the dirt of the plaza. They did not have to be told it was due to the red, stinging ants that seemed everywhere they stepped.

Will we be okay to sleep in the hay in the stables?” James asked.

José responded that the small water channels completely surrounded the mission interior and breaches were quickly repaired. “The chickens do a good job of keeping them at bay inside the quadrangle.”

Later, in their bedroll, Teresa asked, “What do we do, husband. Take the trail through the mountains to Carmel or continue on el Camino Real to Misión Soledad?”

James thought for a moment, reviewing one of his father's maps in his mind. “If we continue to Misión Soledad, we can visit Ranchos Buena Vista y Llano de Buena Vista.

That's what they decided to do, both smiling at the figure of Dog curled up at the stable entrance.

No comments:

Post a Comment