California Missions – Los Angeles Chapel

As I have elsewhere shown, it was the plan of the Spanish Crown not only to christianize and civilize the Indians of California, but also to colonize the country. In accordance with this plan the pueblo of San Jose was founded on the 29th of November, 1776. The second was that of Los Angeles in 1781. Rivera was sent to secure colonists in Sonora and Sinaloa for the new pueblo, and also for the establishments it was intended to found on the channel of Santa Barbara.

In due time colonists were secured, and a more mongrel lot it would be hard to conceive : Indian, Spanish, negro, Indian and Spanish, and Indian and negro bloods were represented, 42 souls in all. The blood which makes the better Spanish classes in Los Angeles to-day so proud represents those who came in much later.

There was nothing accidental in the founding of any Spanish colony. Everything was planned beforehand. The colonist obeyed orders as rigidly executed as if they were military commands. According to Professor Guinn :

” The area of a pueblo, under Spanish rule was four square leagues, or about 17,770 acres. The pueblo lands were divided into solares (house lots), suertes (fields for planting), dehesas (outside pasture lands), ejidos (commons), propios (lands rented or leased), realengas (royal lands).”

On the arrival of the colonists in San Gabriel from Loreto on the 18th of August, 1781, Governor Neve issued instructions for founding Los Angeles on the 26th. The first requirement was to select a site for a dam, to provide water for domestic and irrigation purposes. Then to locate the plaza and the homes and fields of the colonists. Says Professor Guinn:

“The old plaza was a parallelogram 100 varas 2 in length by 75 in breadth. It was laid out with its corners facing the cardinal points of the compass, and with its streets running at right angles to each of its four sides, so that no street would be swept by the wind. Two streets, each 10 varas wide, opened out on the longer sides, and three on each of the shorter sides. Upon three sides of the plaza were the house lots 20 by 40 varas each, fronting on the square. One-half the remaining side was reserved for a guard-house, a town-house, and a public granary. Around the embryo town, a few years later, was built an adobe wall — not so much, perhaps, for protection from foreign invasion as from domestic intrusion. It was easier to wall in the town than to fence the cattle and goats that pastured outside.”

The government supplied each colonist with a pair each of oxen, mules, mares, sheep, goats, and cows, one calf, a burro, a horse, and the branding-irons which distinguished his animals from those of the other settlers. There were also certain tools furnished for the colony as a whole.

On the 14th of September of the same year the plaza was solemnly dedicated. A father from the San Gabriel Mission recited mass, a procession circled the plaza, bearing the Cross, the standard of Spain, and an image of ” Our Lady,” after which salvos of musketry were fired and general rejoicings indulged in. Of course the plaza was blessed and we are even told that Governor Neve made a speech.

As to when the first church was built in Los Angeles there seems to be some doubt. In 1811 authority was gained for the erection of a new chapel, but nowhere is there any account of a prior building. Doubtless some temporary structure had been used. There was no regular priest settled here, for in 1810 the citizens complained that the San Gabriel padres did not pay enough attention to their sick.. In August of 1814 the corner-stone of the new chapel was laid by Padre Gil of San Gabriel, but nothing more than laying the foundation was done for four years. Then Governor Sola ordered that a higher site be chosen. The citizens subscribed five hundred cattle towards the fund, and Prefect Payeras made an appeal to the various friars which resulted in donations of seven barrels of brandy, worth $575. With these funds the work was done, Jose Antonio Ramirez being the architect, and his workers neophytes from San Gabriel and San Luis Rey, who were paid a real (twelve and a half cents) per day. Before 1821 the walls were raised to the window arches. The citizens, however, showed so little interest in the matter that it was not until Payeras made another appeal to his friars that they contributed enough to complete the work. Governor Sola gave a little, and the citizens a trifle. It is interesting to note what the contributions of the friars were. San Miguel offered 500 cattle, San Luis Obispo 200 cattle, Santa Barbara a barrel of brandy, San Diego two barrels of white wine, Purisima six mules and 200 cattle, San Fernando one barrel brandy, San Gabriel two barrels brandy, San Buenaventura said it would try to make up deficits or supply church furniture, etc. Thus Payeras’s zeal and the willingness of the Los Angelenos to pay for wine and brandy, which they doubt-less drank ” to the success of the church,” completed the structure, and December 8, 1822, it was formally dedicated. Auguste Wey writes :

” The oldest church in Los Angeles is known in local American parlance as ‘ The Plaza Church,” Our Lady,’ ‘ Our Lady of Angels,’ ‘Church of Our Lady,’ ‘ Church of the Angels,’ ‘ Father Liebana’s Church,’ and ‘The Adobe Church.’ It is formally the church of Nuestra Senora, Reina de los Angeles—Our Lady, Queen of the Angels — from whom Los Angeles gets its name.”

This latter statement is manifestly inaccurate, as the pueblo was named long before the church was even suggested.

The plaza was formally moved to its present site in 1835, May 23, when the government was changed from that of a pueblo to a city.

Concerning the name of the pueblo and river, Rev. ‘Machin Adam, Vicar General of the Diocese, in a paper read before the Historical Society of Southern California several years ago, said:

” The name Los Angeles is probably derived from the fact that the expedition by land, in search of the harbor of Monterey, passed through this place on the 2d of August, 1769, a day when the Franciscan missionaries celebrate the feast of Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles — Our Lady of the Angels. This expedition left San Diego July 14, 1769, and reached here on the first of August, when they killed for the first time some berrendos, or antelope. On the second, they saw a large stream with much good land, which they called Porciuncula on account of commencing on that day the jubilee called Porciuncula, granted to St. Francis while praying in the little church of Our Lady of the Angels, near Assisi, in Italy, commonly called Della Porciiincula from a hamlet of that name near by.” This was the original name of the Los Angeles river.

The last two recorded burials within the walls of the Los Angeles chapel are those of the young wife of Nathaniel M. Pryor, ” buried on the left-hand side facing the altar,” and of Dona Eustaquia, mother of the Dons Andres, Jesus, and Pio Rico, all intimately connected with the history of the later days of Mexican rule.