During the years in which the Mission Church at Carmel was in a state of decay and neglect, following secularization, the resting place of Junipero Serra, founder of the Franciscan Missions in California, was almost completely forgotten. The floor of the once beautiful edifice was covered with debris, and there arose, at last, a doubt as to whether the dust of the greatest man in California’s history really reposed in California’ a soil.
In order to settle these doubts, as well as for other praise thy reasons, an investigation into the circumstances of the death and burial of Father Serra was made in July, 1882, by Rev. Angelo D. Casanova, who was then pastor of the church of San Carlos at Monterey. The result was to remove the last vestige of doubt as to the resting-place of the great Franciscan. Father Casanova afterward made the following public statement regarding the matter:
“In regard to the locating done in 1882, on the 3d of July, of the remains of the padres buried in the sanctuary of San Carlos church in Carmelo Valleyit was done to satisfy the wishes of many, and to convince others of their error in thinking that Father Junipero Serra was not buried there. After giving notice in the papers of San Francisco, over 400 people from the city, and from the Hotel del Monte, at the hour appointed, went to Carmelo. I, with the Records Defunctorum kept in the archives of the parish, in my hands, read aloud in spanish and in English the certificate of Christian burial of each of the four Rt. Rev. missionaries, describing the place, the side and the order of each one buried, saying on such a day in the sanctuary (or within the communion rail) on the gospel side, I buried so and so. The heavy stone slabs having been removed before the ceremony, the coffin of each stone tomb or grave was left visible. A man then went down and raised the lid of each coffin. The coffins were simple redwood, unplaned, and in a good state of preservation. The people all looked at the re-mains, first of Father John Crespi, the first that died, then on the re-mains of Father Junipero serra. The skeletons were in good state, the ribs standing out in proper arch, part of the vestment in good order, also the heavy silk stole which is put only on priests, in good order and in one piece, two yards and a half long, with the silk fringes to it as good as new. We did not raise the coffins, but only viewed them and their contents to the satisfaction of all present. We did the same to the four corpses; anything more would have been improper, especially as the coffin of the last buried, the Rev. Father Lasuen; was going to pieces. Then the tombs were covered as before with stone slabs. The tomb of Father Junipero Serra, for better security, was filled with earth, so as to make it more difficult for any vandal to disturb his rest, and over that was placed the stone slab broken in four pieces.”
In connection with this important subject, the official record of the death of Serra will prove interesting. It is taken from the church records as written by Serra’s beloved friend, biographer and successor, Father Francisco Palou:
“He [Serra] prepared himself for death by making a general confession, as he had already done several times. Finding that the complaint in his chest was getting worse, and that he had some fever, on the 27th of the month he went on foot to the church. He there received the last sacred rites on his knees, to the edification of the people, and in their presence received the Holy Viaticum, as ordained in the Roman Seraphic Ritual. When the ceremony commenced, the Father was on his knees, chanting with his sonorous voice, and to our astonishment, the ‘Tantum Ergo.’ In the same posture he gave thanks to our Lord; after which he returned to his room. At night he asked for the holy oils, and repeated with us the Penitential Psalms and the Litanies. The remainder of the same night he passed giving thanks to God, some-times on his knees, and sometimes sitting on the floor. He did not take to his bed, but was always dressed in his habit and cloak. At the break of day he asked me to give him the Plenary Indulgence, which he received kneeling. On the morning of the 28th he was visited by the captain of the bark, Don Jose Canizares, and chaplain. He received them sitting, expressing gratitude for their visit. He embraced the chaplain, giving thanks to God that, after traveling so much, they had arrived at Iast to throw a little earth on his remains. A few minutes after making this remark he said that he felt some fear, and asked me to read aloud the recommendations for the soul, which I did. He then responded as if in good health, and exclaimed with delight: ‘Thank God. I am now without fear, and have nothing to dread. I feel better; let us go out.’ He then arose, and afterwards sat down at the table and took a little broth. He then wished to rest, taking nothing off but his cloak. He laid tranquilly for a time, and then rested in the Lord without making any further sign he delivered his spirit unto the Creator, a little after two o’clock in the afternoon of the 28th, the feast of San Augustine, Doctor of the Church. When the bells began to toll, the little town was in a state of commotion: the Indians cried, lamenting the death of their good Father, as likewise all the people, whether on shore or on board the ship. All asked for a remnant of the habit he had worn. They even went so far as to cut within the church pieces from the habit in which Fr. Junipero died. Before death, he ordered (without letting any of those present know of it) the carpenter of the presidio to make his coffin. We promised, if the multitude would hold their peace, to devote a tunic of the deceased Father to scapulars for their benefit. Notwithstanding this, those who guarded the body in the church appropriated locks of his hair as keepsakes. This they were induced to do because of their regard for the departed. His funeral was attended by every one, whether on shore or aboard ship, each one doing what he could in honor of the deceased Father. The captain of the bark utilized his artillery in conferring upon the deceased all the honors of a General, and the Royal Presidio of Monterey responded to the salute. The same marks were repeated on the 4th day of September, with vigil and high Mass, at which the same people attended. Upon this occasion another clergyman officiated, namely, Rev. Fr. Antonio Paterna, minister of the Mission of San Luis Obispo, who could not arrive in time for the funeral. And that everything said may appear of record, I sign this in said mission [CarmeI], on the 5th day of September, 1784.”
The church of the Mission at Carmelo is no longer neglected, thanks to the patriotism and zeal of the lovers of California’s romantic and sacred past. The beautiful old edifice has been carefully roofed over and the wind has ceased to “blow the crockets from the wall,” as Robert Louis Stevenson said when he visited the place upon one of his wandering days from Monterey.
In this connection we may well dwell with deep respect and gratitude on the painstaking care with which the early Franciscan Fathers in California kept a chronicle of the events which marked their gentle rule in the new land. It is to these records that Bancroft and all the later historians were indebted for that which they have written of California’s history.
It is beyond the possibility of anything that can now be fore-seen that the resting places of the historic figures of the past will again be lost sight of. The people of the Golden State have aroused themselves to a sense of duty in this respect. And it is certain that, as time passes, the grave of Father Junipero in the peaceful Valley of Carmelo will become more and more a pilgrim’s shrine, and that his name and fame are now forever secure against the insidious onslaughts of oblivion.