California Missions – San Juan, Bautista

THE second of the ” filling up the links of the chain ” Missions was that of San Juan Bautista. Three days after the commandant of San Francisco had received his orders to furnish a guard for the founders of Mission San Jose, the commandant of Monterey received a like order for a guard for the founders of San Juan Bautista. This consisted of five men and Corporal Ballesteros. By June 17 this industrious officer had erected a church, missionary-house, granary, and guard-house, and a week later Lasuen, with the aid of two priests, duly founded the new Mission. The site was a good one, and by 1800 crops to the extent of 2700 bushels were raised. At the same time 516 neophytes were reported — not bad for two and a half years’ work.

In 1798 the gentiles from the mountains twenty-five miles east of San Juan, the Ansayames, surrounded the Mission by night, but were prevailed upon to retire. Later some of the neophytes ran away and joined these hostiles, and then a force was sent to capture the runaways and administer punishment. In the ensuing fight a chief was killed and another wounded, and two gentiles brought in to be forcibly educated. Other rancherias were visited, fifty fugitives arrested, and a few floggings and many warnings given.

This did not prevent the Ansayames, however, from killing two Mutsunes at San Benito Creek, burning a house and some wheat fields, and seriously threatening the Mission. Moraga was sent against them and captured eighteen hostiles and the chiefs of the hostile rancherias.

Almost as bad as warlike Indians were the earthquakes of that year, several in number, which cracked all the adobe walls of the buildings and compelled everybody — friars and Indians — to sleep out of doors for safety.

In 1803 the Governor ordered the padres of San Juan to remove their stock from La Brea Rancho, which had been granted to Mariano Castro. They refused on the grounds that the rancho properly belonged to the Mission and should not have been granted to Castro, and on appeal the Viceroy confirmed their contention.

In June of this year the corner-stone of a new church was laid. Padre Viader conducted the ceremonies, aided by the resident priests. Don Jose de la Guerra was the sponsor, and Captain Font and Surgeon Morelos assisted.

In June, 1809, the image of San Juan was placed on the high altar in the sacristy which served for purposes of worship until the completion of the church.

By the end of the decade the population had grown to 702, though the number of deaths was large, and it continued slowly to increase until in 1823 it reached its greatest population with 1248 souls.

The new church was completed and dedicated on June 23, 1812. In 1818 a new altar was completed, and a painter named Chavez demanded six reals a day for decorating it. As the Mission could not afford this, a Yankee, known as Felipe Santiago — properly Thomas Doak — undertook the work, aided by the neophytes. In 1815 one of the ministers was Esteban Tapis, who afterwards be-came the presidente.

In 1836 San Juan was the scene of the preparations for hostility begun by Jose Castro and Alvarado against Governor Gutierrez. Meetings were held at which excited speeches were made advocating revolutionary methods, and the fife and drum were soon heard by the peaceful inhabitants of the old Mission. Many of the whites joined in with Alvarado and Castro, and the affair ultimated in the forced exile of the Governor, and Castro taking his place until Alvarado was elected by the diputacion.

The regular statistics of San Juan cease in 1832, when there were 916 Indians registered. In 1835, according to the decree of secularization, 63 Indians were ” emancipated.” Possibly these were the heads of families. Among these were to be distributed land valued at $5120, live-stock, including 41 horses, $1782, implements, effects, etc., $1467.

An inventory of 1835 gives the following : Buildings, $36,000 ; implements, goods, and furniture, $7774 ; church property (church, fully described, $36,000; ornaments, etc. $7740, library, $461, bells, $1060, choir furniture, $1643), $45,904; vineyards, lands, and buildings out-side the Mission, $37,365; ranchos, probably including live-stock, $19,107; credits, $1040; cash, $222; total, $147,413 ; deducting amount distributed to Indians, $8439, and debt $250, balance, $138,723.

Alvarado says that secularization was a success here and at San Antonio, though nowhere else, the Indians being free and making tolerably good use of their freedom. After 1836 all traces of the community disappeared. The Indians were uncontrolled except by the regular laws of the province. A number of whites settled in the region, and the name of the new pueblo was San Juan de Castro. The outside gentile Indians caused a great deal of trouble for a number of years, but were ultimately wiped out of existence.

The summary of statistics from the founding of the Mission in 1797 to 1834 shows 4100 baptisms, 1028 marriages, 3027 deaths. The largest number of cattle owned was 11,000 in 1820, 1598 horses in 1806, 13,000 sheep in 1816.

In 1845, when Pico’s decree was issued, San Juan was considered a pueblo, and orders given for the sale of all property except a curate’s house, the church, and a court-house. The inventory gave a value of $8000. The population was now about 150, half of whom were whites and the other half Indians.

It will be remembered that it was at San Juan that Castro organized his forces to repel what he considered the invasion of Fremont in 1846. From Gavilan heights near by, the explorer looked down and saw the warlike preparations directed against him, and from there wrote his declaration : ” I am making myself as strong as possible, in the intention that if we are unjustly attacked we will fight to extremity and refuse quarter, trusting to our country to avenge our death.”

When Sloat made his memorable landing at Monterey, and California officially became a part of the United States, General Castro was at San Juan, and from there communicated with the conquerors ; and it was rather humiliating to the California commander-in-chief that when the Stars and Stripes were eventually raised over the ex-Mission of San Juan it was done by Fremont and his forces.

Later, when Flores revolted in the South, Fremont organized his noted volunteer battalion at San Juan. Those were exciting times for the little town, for there were 475 mounted riflemen and 41 artillerymen, organized into ten companies. The force duly marched from here on the 29th of November, passing San Miguel to San Luis Obispo and thence over the Santa Ines range to Santa Barbara, finally to Cahuenga where the formal capitulation of the hostile forces took place.

In 1846 Pico sold all that remained of San Juan Bautista — the orchard — to O. Deleisseques for a debt, and though he did not obtain possession at the time, the United States courts finally confirmed his claim. This was the last act in the history of the once prosperous Mission.

Now the town is utterly deserted. When the Southern Pacific railway was built San Juan was left out on one side. Nothing today suggests the activity and excitement of the Mission and revolutionary days. Grass grows in the streets and sleepiness and laziness reign supreme.

As one steps into the plaza at San Juan Bautista he observes that one whole side is occupied by the arched corridors of the monastery. The church is in the corner to the right, separated from the corridors by an ugly modern wooden building, surmounted by the bell-tower which was erected by Father Rubio in 1874. The fachada is plain, simple, and unpretentious. It is merely the end of the church building, divided by a cornice moulding into two sections, the upper and lower. In the upper the only features are a deeply embrasured square window, above which is another simple cornice, which, however, is only a little wider than the window. In the lower section there are three arches, the centre being the main entrance and much larger than the other two. It faces almost due east. The appearance of the fachada is not improved by the four cypress trees which have been trimmed to the shape of four elongated barrels.

Where the plaster has fallen from the walls it reveals that the bricks are of adobe, though on the side a repaired place shows the use of large, flat, burned bricks as well as adobe. The padres were brick-makers in the modern sense of the word. Not only did they know how to make adobe, or sun-dried bricks, but the roof and floor tiles and the bricks used in their buildings are all properly burnt, showing a thorough knowledge of the art.

The monastery is of adobe, and the corridor floor is brick-tiled. It is about 270 feet long, and 50 feet wide (paced measurements). The corridor from the outside of arch to the monastery wall is about twelve feet. The end facing the street is built up with wood, and on it is a sign which says : ” Esta Mision fue cornenzada dia 24 Junio, 1797.” The arches are evidently of flat burned brick, and are not of uniform size, a peculiarity I have elsewhere called attention to.

The entrance at San Juan Bautista seems more like that of a prison than a church. The Rev. Valentin Closa, of the Company of Jesus, who for many years had charge here, found that some visitors were so irresponsible that thefts were of almost daily occurrence. So he had a wooden barrier placed across the church from wall to wall, and floor to ceiling, through which a gate affords entrance, and this gate is kept padlocked with as constant watchfulness as is that of a prison. Passing this barrier the two objects that immediately catch one’s eye are the semicircular arch dividing the church from the altar and the old wooden pulpit on the left.

The interior is different from most of the Missions in that the only windows are four square apertures on each side, almost at the top of the walls, just below which a cornice runs the whole length of the building. Around the church, about three feet from the floor, there is a kind of narrow seat let into the walls. These walls are divided into arches — seven on each side — evidencing the thought in the minds of the original builders. It was their expectation that the church would have to be enlarged into a three-aisled structure as soon as the enlarged attendance of the Indians demanded the extra space. The founder of San Juan had great visions and hopes for the future. The country was thickly populated with Indians, and the success of the Mission is shown in the large number of baptisms in so short a time. Doubtless had the original plans been carried out San Juan would have developed architecturally and have become a much more imposing building than it is.

Of the modern bell-tower it can only be said that it is a pity necessity seemed to compel the erection of such an abortion. The old padres seldom, if ever, failed in their architectural plans. However one may criticise their lesser work, such as the decorations, he is compelled to admire their large work; they were right, powerful, and dignified in their straightforward simplicity. And it is pathetic that in later days, when workmen and money were scarce, the modern priests did not see some way of overcoming obstacles that would have been more harmonious with the old plans than is evidenced in this tower and many other similar incongruities, such as the steel bell-tower at San Miguel.

To return to the interior. The sixth and seventh arches on the left open into a side chapel, in which is an altar to the virgin, and the confessional. The walls throughout are whitewashed, yet here and there a small patch of the original mural decorations may be seen, in brownish-red, green and light green, as on the further side of the seventh arch. There is a corresponding chapel in the sixth and seventh arches on the opposite side. In some places the plaster has fallen, revealing that the construction is of large flat bricks.

Inside the altar is a tombstone over the grave of Padre Esteban Tapis. The inscription is in Latin and records briefly his life-work. He was in America forty years, and in California thirty-five. He died the 3d of November, 18 25.

From the side chapel a door leads into a small hall, lighted only by a triangle-shaped aperture in the wall. An adobe stairway leads from this hall into the old pulpit, which is octagonal, fastened to the wall, and rests on three four-inch joists scrolled at the end. It is of rude panelling in wood, recently painted a creamy pink.

At San Juan Bautista the old reredos remains, though the altar is new. The six figures of the saints are the original ones placed there when it was first erected. In the centre, at the top, is Our Lady of Guadalupe; to the left, San Antonio de Padua; to the right, San Isadore de Madrid (the patron saint of all farmers) ; below, in the centre, is the saint of the Mission, San Juan Bautista, on his left, St. Francis, and on his right, San Buenaventura.

The baptistery is on the left, at the entrance. Over its old solid, heavy doors rises a half-circular arch. Inside are two bowls of heavy sandstone.

In the belfry are two bells, one of which is modern, cast in San Francisco. The other is the largest Mission bell, I believe, in California. It bears the inscription : ” Ave Maria Purisima S. Fernando RVELAS me Fecit 1809.”

There is a small collection of objects of interest connected with the old Mission preserved in one room of the monastery. Among other things are two of the chorals ; pieces of rawhide used for tying the beams, etc., in the original construction ; the head of a bass-viol that used to be played by one of the Indians ; a small mortar ; and quite a number of books. Perhaps the strangest thing in the whole collection is an old barrel-organ made by Benjamin Dobson, The Minories, London. It has several barrels and on one of them is the following list of its tunes: Go to the Devil ; Spanish Waltz ; College Hornpipe ; Lady Campbell’s Reel. One can imagine with what feelings one of the sainted padres, after a peculiarly trying day with his aboriginal children, would put in this barrel, and while his lips said holy things, his hand instinctively grind out with vigor the first piece on the list.