Friday, January 10, 2014

Mission El Descanso

Along the Mission Trail

The ruins of this Dominican Mission can be found just south of Tijuana on the Highway 1 Toll Road.  A very pretty modern church stands on top of the old foundation, but there are ruins behind it.  I never would have found it if I hadn't noticed the church standing on a hill to the left of the road as we passed through the town of Puerto Nuevo.  My guide book states this is one of the least-visited mission sites on the peninsula.  Well, no wonder; there are no signs!  We took the first exit off the toll road and managed to find the church after a few wrong turns.  I was determined!  Why?  Because this is one of the few missions founded by the Dominican Order.  After the Jesuits were expelled from Baja, Father Junipero Serra and his fellow Fransicans were recruited to take over.  Well, Serra decided to go north with Captain Gaspar de Portola to build missions in the northern frontier.  He left the task of building more missions in Baja California to the Dominicans.
The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has done a wonderful job in documenting and preserving what little is left of these missions in Baja.  At Mission El Descano they built this metal covering over the original foundation for protection.  There were signs posted in both Spanish and English explaining the history and the construction of the church.

This mission was founded in 1817 by Father Tomas Ahumada to replace a mission further south that had been flooded.  Although it had a short life and only a population of 254, it served as a vital link to the San Diego mission, providing much needed supplies such as fish, vegetables and grain.  Orchards and vineyards also thrived here.  A successful reservoir with gravity pushed water provided adequate irrigation.

The buildings were made of adobe and stone, but unlike the other missions, the bricks contained crushed shells and pebbles from the nearby Pacific beaches.   The roof was made of branches placed over oak beams.  The floors were made with adobe tiles.

The mission was abandoned in 1834.  By then, most of the Kumiai Indians had died from disease and the Dominicans no longer had the personnel to keep it going.  The mission era was coming to a close.

Fr. Serra handed the Dominicans an almost impossible task, and indeed, the missions in Baja declined rapidly under their control.   Not only was Baja California a dry terrain, but the natives were hostile and extremely independent.  For one thing, the order was known for being stern and domineering.  Punishment for disobedience was brutal and swift.  Sexes were segregated and all recreation like dancing and singing were banned.   History, however,  has given the Franciscans all the fame but they couldn't have succeeded without the Dominican contribution.   That's precisely why the Mission Trail should include the missions in Baja California.  The story is not complete without them.

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