California Missions – San Fernando, Rey De Espagna

ON September 8, 1797, the seventeenth of the California Missions was founded by Padre Lasuen, in the Encino Valley where Francisco Reyes had a rancho in the Los Angeles jurisdiction. The natives called it Achois Comihavit. Reyes’ house was appropriated as a temporary dwelling for the missionary. The Mission was dedicated to Fernando III, King of Spain. Lasuen came down from San Miguel to Santa Barbara, especially for the foundation, and from thence with Sergeant Olivera and a military escort. These, with Padre Francisco Dumetz, the priest chosen to have charge, and his assistant, Francisco Favier Uria, composed, with the large concourse of Indians, the witnesses of the solemn ceremonial.

On the 4th of October Olivera reported the guard-house and storehouse finished, two houses begun, and preparations already being made for the church.

From the baptismal register it is seen that ten children were baptized the first day, and thirteen adults were received early in October. By the end of 1797 there were fifty-five neophytes.

Three years after its founding 310 Indians were gathered in, and its year’s crop was 1000 bushels of grain. The Missions of San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, San Buenaventura, and Santa Barbara had contributed live-stock, and now its herds had grown to 526 horses, mules, and cattle, and 600 sheep.

In December, 1806, an adobe church, with a tile roof, was consecrated, which on the 21st of December, 1812, was severely injured by the earthquake that did damage to almost all the Missions of the chain. Thirty new beams were needed to support the injured walls. A new chapel was built, which was completed in 1818.

By the end of 1810 neophytes had increased to 955, and the healthfulness of the location was proven by the fact that baptisms were twice as numerous as deaths.

San Fernando from the start seemed to be cramped for want of lands. In 1804 there was a strong protest made against granting the Camulos Rancho, and in 1816 Pico ordered the sheep away from his land at the Simi Rancho, as did also the proprietors of Refugio in 1817. Padre Ibarra, in 1821, had a hot correspondence with the Santa Barbara military authorities in reference to a proposed grant of the Piru Rancho, on which he was pasturing the Mission herds. The protest kept it from Guerra, the proposed grantee, but did not save it to San Fernando, a fact which caused considerable irritation on both sides. The padre began to complain of the Santa Barbara presidio, of which De la Guerra was captain, declaring that his soldiers sold liquor, lent horses to, and generally demoralized his neophytes, even sheltering them when they ran away.

Already the Mission property had begun to decline, though from 1822 to 1827 the records show that the Santa Barbara presidio received supplies to the amount of $21,203. In 1826 Governor Echeandia declared San Fernando to be in the jurisdiction of Los Angeles instead of Santa Barbara.

In 1837 the Mission funds to the amount of $2000 were taken by the Los Angeles authorities into safe keeping, as Governor Alvarado was marching south to punish the southern people who had risen in rebellion against what they termed his unjust rule. At San Fernando, on January 16, a force of about 270 men under Rocha were massed to arrest Alvarado’s march upon Los Angeles, and Alcalde Sepulveda issued an address calling upon the citizens to defend the honor of their beloved country against the Monterey usurper. After some fruitless negotiations Alvarado sent an ultimatum to Sepulveda, that if San Fernando was not given up on the messenger’s return he would take it by force. Though his force was much smaller, the order was obeyed at once. Rocha retired with his men to Los Angeles, and Alvarado occupied the Mission. Soon afterwards Alvarado entered Los Angeles, a council of the opposing forces was held, a compact made, and peace restored.

In 1834 Lieutenant Antonio del Valle was the comisionado appointed to secularize the Mission, and the next year he became majordomo and served until 1837. The inventory of 1837 gives credits, $14,293 ; buildings, $56,785 ; house utensils, $601 ; goods in storehouse, $5214 ; liquors, etc., $7175; live-stock, $53,854 ; San Francisco Rancho, $1925; grain, $618; tannery, $544 ; carpenter shop, $127; blacksmith shop, $789; soap works, $512; mills, $200; tools, $368; tallow works, $2540; church, $1500 ; ornaments, etc., $4348; library of fifty works. The debts were $1689. When Visitador Hartwell came in 1839 he found everything in excellent condition, with large herds for distribution among the Indians ; but the next year things were far less satisfactory.

It was on his journey north, in 1842, to take hold of the governorship, that Micheltorena learned at San Fernando of Commodore Jones’s raising of the American flag at Monterey. By his decree, also, in 1843, San Fernando was ordered returned to the control of the padres, which was done, though the next year Duran reported that there were but few cattle left, and two vineyards.

Micheltorena was destined again to appear at San Fernando, for when the Californians under Pio Pico and Castro rose to drive out the Mexicans, the Governor finally capitulated at the same place he had heard the bad news of the Americans’ capture of Monterey. February 21, 1845, after a bloodless ” battle ” at Cahuenga, he ” abdicated,” and finally left the country and returned to Mexico.

In 1845 Juan Manso and Andres Pico leased the Mission at a rental of $1120, the affairs having been fairly well administered by Padre Orday after its return to the control of the friars. A year later it was sold by Pio Pico, under the order of the assembly, for $14,000, to Eulogio Celis, whose title was afterwards confirmed by the courts. Orday remained as pastor until May, 1847, and was San Fernando’s last minister.

In 1847 San Fernando again heard the alarm of war. Fremont and his battalion reached here in January, and remained until the signing of the treaty of Cahuenga, which closed all serious hostilities against the United States in its conquest of California.

Connected with the Mission of San Fernando is the first discovery of California gold. Eight years before the great days of ’49 Francisco Lopez, the mayordomo of the Mission, was in the canyon of San Feliciano, which is about eight miles westerly from the present town of Newhall, and, according to Don Abel Stearns, ” with a companion while in search of some stray horses, about midday stopped under some trees and tied their horses to feed. While resting in the shade, Lopez with his sheath knife dug up some wild onions, and in the dirt discovered a piece of gold. Searching further he found more. On his return to town he showed these pieces to his friends, who at once declared there must be a placer of gold there.”

Then the rush began. As soon as the people in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara heard of it they flocked to the new ” gold fields ” in hundreds. And the first California gold dust ever coined at the government mint at Philadelphia came from these mines. It was taken around Cape Horn in a sailing vessel by Alfred Robinson, the translator of Boscana’s ” Indians of California,” and consisted of 18.34 ounces, and made $344.75, or over $19 to the ounce.

Davis says that in the first two years after the discovery not less than from $80,000 to $100,000 was gathered. Don Antonio Coronel, with three Indian laborers, in 1842, took out $600 worth of dust in two months.

Water being scarce the methods of washing the gravel were both crude and wasteful. And it is interesting to note that the first gold ” pans ” were bateas or bowl-shaped Indian baskets.

In March, 1902, a San Fernando Mission Indian died, and was buried on the 22d by the side of his wife in the old cemetery back of the church. Rojerio Rocha by name, he was said to be one hundred and twelve years old at the time of his death. He was one of the noted blacksmiths and silversmiths of the Mission, in the days when it was famed for its excellent iron work. When the division of lands took place he was given about twelve acres, three miles east of the Mission ; but later he was evicted, and thereafter felt nothing but scorn, contempt, and hatred for the Americans who dispossessed him. It was a cold, rainy night when he was carted away from his home, and his wife died from the exposure. He was quite familiar with the excitement at the time of the discovery of gold, and was one of the few neophytes who were allowed to visit the spot.

The church at San Fernando is in a completely ruined condition. It stands southwest to northeast. The entrance is at the southwest end and the altar at the northeast. There is also a side entrance at the east, with a half-circular arch, sloping into a larger arch inside, with a fiat top and rounded upper corners. The thickness of the walls allows the working out of various styles in these outer and inner arches that is curious and interesting. They reveal the individuality of the builder, and as they are all structural and pleasing they afford a wonderful example of variety in adapting the arch to its necessary functions.

Four sets of pilasters on each side divide the walls into effective panels, in each of which is set a sunk-in arch.

Upon each pilaster rests a corbel. Additional corbels are placed between the pilasters, and on these the roof-beams rest.

Nine square recesses, as if for windows, are to be seen on both sides, but a few only are pierced through and used as windows.

The church walls throughout are built of adobe.

The sacristy is in the rear of the church, and it is evident that here, as in so many of the Missions, digging has been going on. Over the entrance is an arch, shell-like inside, built of burnt brick.

The choir loft is at the southwest end, over the main entrance, which is a rounded arch outside and a flat one inside.

The corridors of the inner court extended from this church to the monastery — the building recently restored by the Landmarks Club. Only one pillar now stands, all the rest having tumbled. They were built of large flat burned brick. Some of them were square, as at Purisima, others are ruins of rounded columns. These latter were made of square brick, and the rounding out was accomplished with cement.

The graveyard is on the northwest side of the church, and close by is the old olive orchard, where a number of fine trees are still growing. There are also two large palms, pictures of which are generally taken with the Mission in the background, and the mountains beyond. It is an exquisite subject. The remains of adobe walls still surround the orchard.

The doorway leading to the graveyard is of a half-circle inside, and slopes outward, where the arch is square.

There is a buttress of burnt brick to the southeast of the church, which appears as if it might have been an addition after the earthquake.

At the monastery the chief entrance is a simple but effective arched doorway, now plastered and whitewashed.

The double door frame projects pilaster-like, with a four-membered cornice above, from which rises an elliptical arch, with an elliptical cornice about a foot above.

From this monastery one looks out upon a court or plaza which is literally dotted with ruins, though they are mainly of surrounding walls. Immediately in the foreground is a fountain, the reservoir of which is built of brick covered with cement. A double bowl rests on the centre standard.

Further away in the court are the remnants of what may have been another fountain, the reservoir of which is made of brick, built into a singular geometrical figure. This is composed of eight semicircles, with V’s connecting them, the apex of each V being on the outside. It appears like an attempt at creating a conventionalized flower in brick.

Two hundred yards or so away from the monastery is a square structure, the outside of boulders. Curiosity prompting, you climb up, and on looking in you find that inside this framework of boulders are two circular cisterns of brick, fully six feet in diameter across the top, decreasing in size to the bottom, which is perhaps four feet in diameter.

In March, 1905, considerable excitement was caused by the actions of the parish priest of San Fernando, a Frenchman named Le Bellegny, of venerable appearance and gentle manners. Not being acquainted with the status quo of the old Mission, he exhumed the bodies of the Franciscan friars who had been buried in the church and reburied them. He removed the baptismal font to his church, and unroofed some of the old buildings and took the tiles and timbers away. As soon as he understood the matter he ceased his operations, but, unfortunately, not before considerable damage was done.