California Missions – San Antonio De Padua

THE third Mission of the series was founded in honor of San Antonio de Padua, July 14, 1771, by Serra, accompanied by Padres Pieras and Sit jar. One solitary Indian heard the dedicatory mass, but Serra’s enthusiasm knew no bounds. He was assured that this ” first fruit of the wilderness ” would go forth and bring many of his companions to the priests. Immediately after the mass he hastened to the Indian, lavished much attention on him, and gave him gifts. That same day many other Indians came and clearly indicated a desire to stay with such pleasant company. They brought pinenuts and acorns, and the padres gave them in exchange strings of glass beads of various colors.

At once buildings were begun, in which work the Indians engaged with energy, and soon church and dwellings, surrounded by a palisade, were completed. From the first the Indians manifested confidence in the padres, and the fifteen days that Padre Serra remained were days of intense joy and gladness at seeing the readiness of the natives to associate with him and his brother priests. Without delay they began to learn the language of the Indians, and when they had made sufficient progress they devoted much time to catechising them. In two years 158 natives were baptized and enrolled, and instead of relying upon the missionaries for food, they brought in large quantities of acorns, pine-nuts, squirrels, and rabbits. The Mission being located in the heart of the mountains, where pine and oak trees grew luxuriantly, the pine-nut and acorn were abundant. Before the end of 1773 the church and dwellings were all built, of adobe, and three soldiers, who had married native women, were living in separate houses.

In August of 1774 occurred the first trouble. The gentile Indians, angered at the progress of the Mission and the gathering in of so many of their people, attacked the Mission and wounded an Indian about to be baptized. When the news reached Rivera at Monterey, he sent a squad of soldiers, who captured the culprits, gave them a flogging, and imprisoned them. Later they were flogged again, and, after a few days in the stocks, they were released.

In 1779 an alcalde and regidore were chosen from the natives to assist in the administration of justice. In 1800 the report shows that the neophyte population was 1118, with 767 baptisms and 656 deaths. The cattle and horses had decreased from 2232 of the last report to 2217, but small stock had slightly increased. In 1787 the church was regarded as the best in California, though it was much improved later, for in 1797 it is stated that it was of adobes with a tiled roof. In 1793 the large adobe block, eighty varas long and one vara wide, was constructed for friars’ houses, church and storehouse, and it was doubtless this church that was tiled four years later.

In 1805 it gained its highest population, there being 1296 Indians under its control. The lands of the Mission were found to be barren, necessitating frequent changes in cultivated fields and stock ranges.

In 1808 the venerable Buenaventura Sitjar, one of the founders of the Mission, and who had toiled there continuously for thirty-seven years, passed to his reward, and was buried in sight of the hills he had loved so long. The following year, or in 1810, work was begun on a newer and larger church of adobes, and this is doubtless the building the ruins of which remain. Though we have no record of its dedication, there is no question but that it took place prior to 1820, and in 1830 references are made to its arched corridors, etc., built of brick. Robinson, who visited it in this year, says the whole Mission is built of brick, but in this he is in error. The fachada is of brick, as is shown in the chapter on architecture, but the main part of the building is of adobe. Robinson speaks thus of the Mission and its friar : ” Padre Pedro Cabot, the present missionary director, I found to be a fine, noble-looking man, whose manner and whole deportment would have led one to suppose he had been bred in the courts of Europe, rather than in the cloister. Everything was in the most perfect order: the Indians cleanly and well dressed, the apartments tidy, the workshops, granaries, and store-houses comfortable and in good keeping.”

In 1834 Cabot retired to give place to Padre Jesus Maria Vasquez del Mercado, one of the newly arrived Franciscans from Zacatecas. In this year the neophyte population had dwindled to 567, and five years later Visitador Hartwell found only 270 living at the Mission and its adjoining ranches. It is possible, however, that there were fully as many more living at a distance of whom he gained no knowledge, as the official report for 1840 gives 500 neophytes.

Manuel Crespo was the comisionado for secularization in 1835, and he and Padre Mercado had no happy times together. Mercado made it so unpleasant that six other administrators were appointed in order to please him, but it was a vain attempt. As a consequence, the Indians felt the disturbances and discord, and became discontented and unmanageable.

The inventories required by the secularization decrees show that September 10, 1835, the produce, implements, furniture, and goods were valued at $7883. Another inventory, dated April 27, 1836, says : Credits (whatever that means, supposedly accounts owing to the Mission), $18,642 ; buildings, $11,197 vineyards, implements, furniture, and goods in store, $22,671; 8 ranches, $32,834; live-stock, $1000 ; total, $93,122, besides church property, $7617; but there should be deducted $16,886 for property distributed among the Indians. On Hartwell’s visit he reported the Mission accounts in sad confusion (no wonder, seven administrators in half that number of years), and the Indians full of complaints. At San Bernabe was a ” gente de razon,” who was responsible for much disease among the natives. Alas ! not only ruin to the Mission, but de-moralization and destruction to the Indians had already set in.

In 1843, according to Governor Micheltorena’s order of March 29, the temporal control of the Mission was restored to the padre. But, though the order was a kindly one, and relieved the padre from the interference of officious, meddling, inefficient, and dishonest ” administrators,” it was too late to effect any real service.

As far as I can learn, Pico’s plan did not affect San Antonio, and it was not one of those sold by him in 1845-6. In 1848 Padre Doroteo Ambris was in charge as curate. For thirty years he remained here, true to his calling, an entirely different kind of man from the quarrelsome, arrogant, drinking, and gambling Mercado. He finally died at San Antonio, and was buried in the Mission he guarded so well.

At his death there was no pastor who could be sent to take charge, and the few remaining Indians and whites had to be content with such services as the priests from San Miguel and casual visitors could render. These were not always of the best. One of the residents of Jolon informed me of one of them, who, after mass, drank more than was good for him, retreated in disgrace, and left one of the old manuals of the Mission in his room, which it was evident he intended to take away with him.

San Antonio appeals to me more than any other of the Missions. There is a pathetic dignity about the ruins, an unexpressed claim for sympathy in the perfect solitude of the place that is almost overpowering. In the whirl of railroading San Antonio has been completely sidetracked, — far more so than San Juan Bautista, — and, unlike San Juan, it stands out in the fields, alone, deserted, for-gotten. Across the way from San Juan is a hotel, across from San Antonio there is nothing ; indeed, there is no across, for there is not traffic enough to make a way. Here is what I wrote in the shadow of the walls that still stand, one exquisite Sunday in May of 1904: Oh, the infinitude of care and patience and work and love shown in this old building. Everything was well and beautifully done; it is so evidently a work of love and pride. This builder was architect and lover, maker of history and poet, for power, strength, beauty, and tenderness are revealed on every hand. Every arch is perfect; every detail in harmony with every other ; and in location and general surroundings it is ideal. San Antonio Creek is at the rear, — exquisite views of fertile valley, rolling foothills, and tree-covered mountains on every side. It is enclosed in a picturesque bower of beauty, — God’s quiet nook in His great out-of-doors.

And all, now, is silent and deserted. Birds fly in and out, and sing in the towers that once sent forth sweet sounds of evening bell. Horses wander up and down the corridors where monks were wont to tell their beads, and even the monastery, consecrated by prayers, songs, and the holy toil of daily labor, and the rooms in which Indian maidens and youths learned the handicrafts of the white man, are now used as places of shade for the cattle that roam through the valley.

Inside the ruined church all is still. There is no droning voice of drowsy padre intoning his early morning mass ; no resounding note of the same padre’s voice when fired with martial ardor, as soldier of the Cross, preaching to Indians whose souls have been imperilled by some recent relapse. All, all is silent ! In the surrounding ruins where once was heard the ring of iron and hammer on anvil, the saw and plane on wood, the tap of the hammer on leather, the scrape of the tool on hide, the cutting of the graver on wood, and the busy hum of active workers of every kind, — everything now is hushed and still. The olive-oil mill is dismantled; its standards gone; only two of the olive trees remain ; the fields no longer see the Indians ; the plough is idle; the rancherias are deserted. Like a gray-haired mother of sons and daughters, whose life-work is accomplished, and who sits in her capacious arm-chair awaiting the last summons, so seems San Antonio to sit, calm and serene among the hills, silently voicing the questions : ” Have I, too, not accomplished? May I not also pass in peace? ”

At Jolon is the old stage station and hotel, owned for many years by George C. Dutton, cousin of Clarence Dutton, whose prose poems on the Grand Canyon I have always regarded as among the classics of the English language. During the past years Mr. Dutton has seen San Antonio’s slow degradation and demolition. The illustration elsewhere shown pictures it as he remembers it, with roof still on, pulpit in place, altar, statues, confessionals, benches, chairs, — all there. Now, alas ! what is it but a ” shapeless cairn.” Roofless and dismantled, Nature and Humanity have both buffeted the sacred building. The owls and bats have long made it their nesting place, and Man has despoiled it of everything portable. To save somewhat from the general pillage, Mr. Dutton brought to a room of safety a few of the more important objects, which he now holds ready to turn over to the proper authorities on demand.

In 1904 the California Historic Landmarks League (Inc.) undertook the preservation of San Antonio, and on my visit there in 1904 lumber was on the ground for roofing it. A little work had already been accomplished, but much more is immediately necessary if the walls are to be kept from falling.