California Missions - A Chapter Of Saints
( Originally Published Early 1922 )
IT is instinctive in the ordinary human being to look up to some one above himself. Carlyle was not the first hero-worshipper, nor is he the last. In this matter the Catholic Church has proven herself wise in recognizing this universal propensity to select from among her members men and women conspicuous for their blame-less and heroic Christian lives, and to whom it believed that Heaven had borne indubitable testimony, sometimes by the power to work miracles, and raise them to the honors of her altars by the solemn decree of canonization. Long-fellow beautifully enunciated the principle upon which they acted when, in his " Psalm of Life," he reminded us that " Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime."
It is not my purpose to expatiate upon the lives of the saints, but, as many, otherwise interested in the old Missions, are perhaps not so familiar with the saints, I thought it would be well, in showing some of the pictures of the wooden figures of the saints that are to be found at the Missions, to make some brief mention of their lives.
The Viceroy Galvez placed the first sea expedition for the missionizing and colonization of Alta California, under the patronage of San Jose (Saint Joseph). This saint, as the foster father of our Lord, was necessarily the provider of all his needs, and also of those of the Virgin, his mother. Hence he is made the patron saint of the temporalities of all institutions. There are several statues of San Jose found in the Missions, one (Plate 43 a) being in the relic-room at Santa Barbara.
In the sacristy at the old presidio church at Monterey, is a rudely carved statue of the Blessed Virgin. (Plate 64 b.) Its place, in art, is among that class of figures in-tended by the artificer for draping, as it was thus rendered more in touch with the every-day life of the Indians it was intended to impress. To this class also pertain the various Child-Jesus statuettes, a typical case being the Infant Jesus of Prague, commonly known as " The Holy Child." It is possible that this statue of Our Lady was carved by the Indian neophytes under the direction of the padres. Statues that were imported were generally carved through-out and could be placed in position without draping. The " Saint Clare " of the Santa Clara Mission belongs to the former class. This statue of the Monterey sacristy stands about four feet high and wears a very modem tinsel halo and garments.
Almost every Mission has, or had, its figures of the Virgin and Holy Child, and it would be a wonderful study in expression if all of these could be gathered together for comparative study. In Plate 20 a Our Lady is represented crowned, as the Queen of Heaven, the Child Jesus in her arms. But in Plate 20 b there is a sweet, gentle, and maternal look that wins and captivates the soul.
In Plate 44 a is a conception of the Holy Child when he was disputing with the elders in the Temple. It is neither pleasing nor artistic, and the enlarged head and the strained attitude make a grotesque effect rather than the deep impression its maker doubtless intended. Yet it never must be forgotten that all these figures were de-signed to impress the childlike Indians and the devout, to whom everything of this nature was too serious and solemn to be looked at critically.
At the San Diego school (which is close to the old Mission) are two small wooden figures of Christ: one in the Garden of Gethsemane (Plate 12 a), and the other after the scourging, when the soldiers mockingly put on him the scarlet robe. (Plate 12 b.) The cloak is of canvas, painted red, but so well put on that at first sight the red canvas appears to be part and parcel of the carved wood. The shading from one kind of material into the other is very ingeniously done.
These statuettes are about a foot and a half high, and have a wooden base which is so worm-eaten as to be slowly crumbling away. It looks almost like cork, so completely have the tiny creatures cut their way through it.
Two valued treasures of the Dominican Sisters Orphan-age at Mission San Jose are the statues of Ecce Homo (Plate 4) and San Buenaventura (Plate 64 a), which used to belong to the old Mission. That of the Ecce Homo is in the convent precincts, and a special dispensation had to be produced ere I was permitted to photograph it. To me it is one of the most wonderful statues in the whole of the Missions ; the sad, tender austerity of the face, the pain and woe thereon depicted. Only the face, hands, and feet are carved; the body is unshapen, so that it was necessary to clothe the figure. The rich silk gown and the Franciscan girdle, therefore, are real, and were undoubtedly put on when the statue was first made, and this accounts for its present forlorn and dilapidated condition. It stands about three feet high, and is on a bracket at the end of the corridor where the young sisters sleep. Some of them are avowedly afraid of it, for, especially in the twilight, standing there under the skylight with a full view of the whole corridor, it is easy to imagine it some austere and stern monk looking even into the very depths of the heart of those who come within its ken.
The San Buenaventura is of the more ordinary type, the dress being composed of leather moulded to the required form, then stiffened and painted.
San Buenaventura was originally Giovanni di Fidanza. He was born at Bagnarea in Tuscany in 1221. St. Francis of Assisi, meeting him one day and being charmed with the attractive power of his personality, and foreseeing his future greatness, exclaimed " O buona ventura ! " and this appellative Buenaventura in Spanish (Good For-tune in English) clung to him. Because of his great skill as a writer and teacher of mystic theology he was called the seraphic doctor. He was in turn bishop, minister-general of the Franciscan Order, and Cardinal. He died in 1274. His day is July 14.
At Santa Barbara are three figures which represent the three archangels, Gabriel, Miguel, and Rafael. It will be remembered that San Gabriel announced to Mary the mystery of the incarnation, hence he is intimately connected with that great dispensation. His place in christian symbolism is largely determined thereby. His day is March 18. In Plate 44 b he appears, robed in vesture bedight with shimmering stars and silver moon. Just as the arrows in the talons of the American eagle on the national shield symbolize the nation's defenders ready at their country's call, so the stars and moon of San Gabriel are worn by him as the messenger of the Holy Virgin, as explained in Rev. xii. 1.
San Miguel is presented in Plate 44 c. With crossed lines on breast, and fingers pointing upwards, this statue presents the saint as breastplated, uttering his cry to the angelic hosts : Mi-cha-el Quis-ut-Deus Who-as-God? thus calling upon them to decide under whom they would muster. His day is September 29, but there is a subsidiary festival of his on May 8.
Plate 44 d is of San Rafael. The fish under his feet symbolizes him as the specially assigned heavenly guardian of the young Tobias. (See Tobias vi. 2, 3, 4.) San Rafael's day is October 24.
At Santa Barbara also is the statue of San Antonio de Padua (Plate 43 b). He was born in Lisbon in 1195, and died in Padua in 1231, and was canonized in 1232. He was a famous preacher, and a zealous Franciscan. He is invariably represented with the Infant Jesus in his arms. In tradition the reason of this is that his devotion was so intense, and his love for the Blessed Babe so sincere, that the Holy Mother, to give him a signal proof of appreciation of his devotion, yielded to the importunate look and outstretched arms of her Child and gave the Infant into the saint's embrace. Thus, with the ever-abiding benison of the Child whom he had held for a time in his arms, he went forth to more zealous and powerful service for the honor and glory of God and the propagation of the faith. His day is June 13. The Santa Barbara figure is singularly pleasing, and the expression upon the face is of a deeply thoughtful, spiritual, tender nature.
Of an entirely different character is the face of the St. Anthony shown in Plate 43 c. This is at San Carlos, Carmelo. There is neither dignity nor tenderness in this face ; instead, a kind of weak simpering that is effeminate and displeasing.
Plate 21 a is of St. John the Evangelist, as shown by the book he has in his hands. Here are dignity, benignity, and sweetness, a true and artistic portrayal of the wondrous " Seer of Patmos."
Plate 21 b is probably of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr. Both this and Figure 21 a are in the collection room at Santa Clara. The main reason of doubt as to the identity of this statue or, in other words, that it was really meant to represent St. Stephen, is in the dress, which is rather mediaeval than archaic enough to coincide with the martyr's period the Jerusalem of Our Lord. But the eyes turned heavenward and the martyr's palm, taken together, make it probable that it is for St. Stephen.
Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse (Plate 64 c) (1274-1297, A. D.), son of Charles II, surnamed the Lame, King of Naples and Sicily, was canonized in 1317. His day is August 19.
The figure within the church, which represents San Luis, is young and fair and pleasing. He became a Franciscan in 1296, in his twenty-third year, and, as he died four years later, he must have been one of the youngest bishops of the church; and thus also he is a junior among the saints.
It used to be the fashion to observe the Saint's Day at San Luis Obispo, as elsewhere, with a special fiesta. One observer, present in the later days of the last century, has given us a vivid picture of this fiesta, part of which is worth extended quoting :
" We turned from the inspection of things sacred and curious to follow the gathering multitude through the narrow street to the plaza where we might see the bull-baiting. . . . The small town was alive with people. Matrons and maidens crowded the side-walk, while their husbands, brothers and lovers, in all the bravery of Mexican saddles, jangling spurs, and coiled reatas, charged up and down the one crooked street upon their favorite mustangs in the most reckless manner. The outer fringe of the motley gathering was composed of curious spectators, a fair and rather mixed contingent composed of French, Germans, and Americans.
Undaunted by the heat and glare of the August midday, we waited for the fight. Arrived at the place which had been enclosed for the sport, we found that seats had been prepared for the ladies. The men were generally mounted, and so well did they sit and ride that horse and rider seemed one creature. The managers of the performance were gay and distinguishable in red and yellow scarfs. The hum of voices in many unfamiliar tongues disturbed the stillness, while the expectant throng waited and simmered.
At last, after we had ceased to care for the promised ' show,' there was an uproar of trumpets, tambourines, and voices, and the Toro victim, with his tormentors, entered the enclosure. The skilled horseman whose duty it was to provoke the animals was armed with spears and barbed darts, with tiny flags attached. These were thrown at the bull to improve his temper, and it improved with each admonitory sting. A few footmen were in the enclosure, armed with dark-colored blankets. It was their part to divert the maddened creature and throw the blanket over his head in case of danger. One at a time, some twenty bulls were brought into the corral. Some ignored the hostility of the enemy, and others accepted the challenge and fought until exhausted."
In the account from which the foregoing was quoted, the impression was given throughout that the bull fight was part of the honors to the saint. A scholarly Catholic priest at one of the old Missions protests against this idea, asserting that " the Catholic Church never counselled, much less introduced, bull fights. At most she simply tolerated them as a fond mother's concession to her little ones, that they might not deem her rule too hard."
San Juan Capistrano was born at the town of the same name in the kingdom of Naples in 1385. He was educated as a lawyer, became a judge, and in 1415 entered the Franciscan Order. He became noted for his austerity, his zeal for the preservation of the true faith, and his diplomacy, travelling extensively in Europe on business of the Pope. He was one of the high officials of the Inquisition, and also preached to the Crusaders while they were on their arduous marches. With the cross in hand which he had received from the Pope, he animated the Christian forces before Belgrade and was present when they entered the town in 1456. He died in October of that year, and was canonized in 1690. His day is the 2d of October. As an author of ecclesiastical works he is also worthy of note. The figure of San Juan (Plate 43 d) shows him with a book in his left hand, and outstretched right hand, as if arguing or disputing on some matter of importance, as he is said to have done against the Hussites.
Plate 20 c is of Santa Lucia in an attitude of devotion. Her name is borne by the range of mountains that separates the region of San Luis Obispo from the Valley of the Salinas.
At Santa Ines, the chief figure in the centre of the reredos is that of the patron saint. She was martyred by beheading in Rome in the year 304. Bancroft says this occurred when Agnes was but thirteen years of age, which agrees with the authority of Alban Butler's " Lives of the Saints," vol. i., under January 21. Butler cites St. Ambrose and St. Austin for thirteen.
At that age, the son of Sempronius, prefect of Rome at the time, desired to marry her, but she answered him, as well as all other suitors, that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be be-held by mortal eyes. Sempronius, the father, enraged at her resolution and constancy, ruthlessly delivered her up to profligates, all of whom, however, save one, were so awed by coming in sight of the saint at her prayers, that they durst not approach. But that foolish youth, attempting to be rude to her, was instantly struck blind from Heaven. But the good Agnes, compassionating his misfortune, by prayer restored him to' his sight and health.
The figure at Santa Ines is certainly of a person much older than thirteen years of age, but this is doubtless an anachronism of art. Over four feet in height, the statue is quite heavy, and when the kindly lay brother at the Mission aided me in lifting it from its elevated position, he could not help commenting on its weight ; and then, as if he had somehow said that which would be displeasing to the dear saint, he caressed the figure with his hands and a soft and pleading voice whispered " Santa Ines Hermosa " Beautiful Saint Agnes. No doubt the sweet-spirited saint heard and forgave him for any pain his recognition of her great weight may have given her. In her right hand she holds what evidently represents the feather palm symbol of martyrdom, a feather being the best temporary substitute at hand. In her left hand she bears a lamb, symbol of her name, Agnes in Latin, and also of her virginal purity and innocence. These are added to the figure (Plate 20 d) when it occupies its elevated position. The feast of St. Agnes occurs on January 21. Both the Roman Breviary and the Bollandists' " Acte Sanctorum " confirm thirteen as the age at which she was martyred.
San Francisco Solano, the missionary to the Indians, was born at Monsilia, in Andalucia, March, 1549. In his youth he studied with the Jesuits, but when twenty years of age he joined the Franciscan Order in his native town. He requested to be sent as a missionary to Peru. A fearful storm arose, and the vessel was driven upon a rocky shore. The captain wanted Francis to come into his life-boat, but the devoted priest refused to leave some pagans who were on board. He instructed them as well as circumstances would allow, baptized them hurriedly in the midst of the storm, and thus prepared them for death. However, by the efficacy of his prayers they weathered the storm and were saved. Francis labored long thereafter for the aborigines in Peru, until his death which occurred July 14, 1610. He was canonized in 1726. His festival takes place July 24. An extended life of St. Francis Solano is given in " The Bollandists," vol. 5, of the month of July, under July 24.
San Carlos Borromeo was the son of Gilbert Borromeo, Count of Arona. He was a nephew of Pope Pius IV, and was born at Arona, near Milan, Italy, in 1538 ; was appointed Archbishop of Milan in 1560, and not long after created Cardinal. He died in 1584, and was canonized in 1610 by Pope Paul V. His day is November 4.
San Diego de Alcala (St. James of Alcala) was an Andalusian Franciscan, who lived from 1400 to 1463, and was canonized in 1588 by Pope Sixtus V, for his saintly and heroic life, and confirmed by miracles wrought through him before and after his death. His day is November 13. The saint's surname, Alcala, was seldom attached to the name of his Mission in popular usage.
Santa Barbara was the daughter of Dioscorus, who lived in Asia Minor. Being an idolater and hating the new religion, he gave his daughter, who had become a Christian, to the torture, and then beheaded her with his own hand, angered at her steady adherence to the new faith. The unfortunate man soon paid the penalty of his cruel act for immediately thereafter he was struck by lightning. The protection of Santa Barbara, therefore, is often invoked by sailors as a safeguard against the fury of lightning during the storms to which they are so frequently exposed on the high seas. Santa Barbara's day is December 4. Her martyrdom occurred at Nicomedia, about the year 240.
Of St. Francis (San Francisco de Asis) one would enjoy writing a whole chapter. He is worthy of note, not only because he founded the religious order which bears his name, but also because, as it were, he has lived his beautiful life over and over again in the lives of the many great and worthy men who have been members of his illustrious order. Francis was born at Assisi, in Umbria, Italy, in 1182, in a stable, his pious mother having thus, by divine monition, secured a safe delivery. On his right shoulder was a birth mark of a cross, which the faithful deem was placed there by an angel at the time of his birth.
After a somewhat vain and frivolous life, which, however, never found vent in unrestrained waywardness, he was taken prisoner in a local war. The captivity which followed, and a prolonged illness, tempered and subdued his spirit to a better mood, and it was then that his future vocation was revealed to him in a dream. Thus divinely enlightened and changed to a better self, he began to carry out his formed plan of a more worthy and christian life. His father, on this account, endeavored to have him adjudged insane. He on his part, gladly gave up all claim to the paternal inheritance, and, retiring to the convent of Portiuncula, near Assisi, laid the foundations for his great order, which, approved by the Pope in 1209, 1210, and 1221, in a few years numbered many thousands of members.
In 1219, Francis, accompanied by Blessed Illuminates of Reate, and other companions from Ancona, set sail for Egypt and there joined, as missionaries, the Sixth Crusade, which was then besieging Babylon on the Nile, the modern Grand Cairo. Fearless in the cause of Christ, Francis passed into the Saracen camp to preach the gospel to the heathen his brethren were fighting ; and the Sultan, admiring his intrepid zeal, would not allow him to be injured. Many miracles are recorded as having been worked by and through him. But by far the most remarkable was the reception, while in a state of ecstasy, through the medium of an angel, of the stigmata of Jesus, the sacred wounds of the nails and spear. These are painted, it will be remembered, upon the mortuary chapel at San Luis Rey. Though St. Francis was in feeble health after he returned from Egypt, he still kept on preaching until his death on October 4, 1226. Two years later, 1228, he was canonized by Pope Gregory IX. His festival is celebrated October 4.
The 16th of April is the day of the profession of St. Francis ; so on that day all members of the order renew their vows. It is also a day celebrated in the Franciscan Order, in honor of the Holy Archangel San Rafael, as the patron of travellers, though his principal day is October 24.
Santa Clara was a native of the same town as St. Francis. She was born in 1193, of noble parents, and lived the ordinary frivolous life of her class, until, when about 19 years old, she was converted by the example and preaching of St. Francis. Retiring at once to the con-vent of Portiuncula, whither her example drew both her mother and her sister, she soon became as famous for her austerity and piety as before she had been for her wit and beauty. In conjunction with her saintly neighbor, she founded the second order of St. Francis, namely a sisterhood bearing her name, and often known as " The Poor Clares." She died in 1253 and was canonized in 1255. Her day is the 12th of August.
The first order of St. Francis is that to which all the Franciscan priests belong. They take the vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, and are banded together in brotherhoods.
The second order is that of St. Clare (Santa Clara) and is of women who take the same vows as the men, and are banded together in sisterhoods.
The third order is of laymen, living in the world and carrying on their regular work, but who have taken the same vows as the priests.
Neustra Senora de la Soledad Our Lady of Solitude is the name given to the Holy Virgin in her period of solitude. While Christ was going through the stages of the Passion she was " Our Lady of Sorrows " Dolores but during the three days from Friday until the Sun-day morning of the resurrection, when he arose from the dead, she was in " loneliness," and so she became Our Lady of Solitude. La Soledad Mission is named for her, and her day, under this special title, is commemorated in some places on Good Friday in Holy Week, and in others on Holy Saturday of the same week.
Roman Catholics also have Holy Days dedicated to personages and mysteries, and also to sacred objects as well as to saints. Among such festivals, as has been shown, are the days of the Holy Archangels Gabriel, Miguel (Michael) and Rafael. Another sacred day is that of December 8, dedicated to the holy mystery of the Immaculate Conception La Purisima Concepcion and a Mission bearing this name was established in the California chain.
Belonging to this same class are the two festivals in honor of the Santa Cruz the Holy Cross of Christ, for which another Mission was named. One of these festivals, the " Invention," or the finding of the Cross by the Empress Sant Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, at Jerusalem, in the year 326, occurs on May 3, and the other, that of the " Exaltation " of the Holy Cross, on September 14.
San Juan Bautista St. John Baptist scarcely needs any comment, his history in the New Testament being so well known. His day is June 24.
San Fernando, Rey de Espagna, St. Ferdinand was the third king of Spain of that name. He reigned from 1217 to 1252, and under his reign the crowns of Castile and Leon were united. He was canonized in 16'71 by Pope Clement X. His day is May 30.
Another king is Saint Louis IX of France, whose name, San Luis Rey, is given to the noble pile second in the Mission chain. San Luis reigned from 1226 to 1270, and earned his reputation for piety both at home and abroad in the Crusades. He was canonized by Pope Boniface VIII, in 1297, in the reign of his grandson, Philip the Fair. His day is August 25.