Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Mission Santa Cruz

Along the Mission Trail

This is the first time I visited one of the California missions and felt . . .well . . .nothing.  I was in and out within fifteen minutes.  My travel buddy was stunned.  Usually it takes 2-3 hours for me to wander through the mission buildings and beautiful gardens, but this is a pint-size replica with a pint-size museum and a pint-size garden.  I left feeling that this is the Mission That Shouldn't Have Been.
Turns out this mission, even in its prime (if ever there was one) was called "The Hard Luck Mission."
It was founded in 1791 by Father Fermin de Lasuen on the banks of the San Lorenzo River and flooded only a few months later.  It was moved to the current site, a hilltop location,  which now overlooks downtown Santa Cruz.   In 1793, it was attacked and burned down by a tribe of Indians who didn't like being forced into slavery.  More attacks followed.  Even a murder.  It seems like the "good" fathers used punishment in keeping their converts in line.

The local Spanish settlers in the nearby Branciforte pueblo didn't get along with the Franciscans either.  There was constant bickering.  The padres accused the settlers of gambling, smuggling and helping the Indians to desert.  When the mission was evacuated due to a forewarned attack by pirates, the fathers returned, finding that the treasures left behind had been looted--not by the pirates, but by the locals themselves.  There was no love here.  No loyalty.

Not so today.  A new Gothic church called Holy Cross, was built on the original mission site in 1889 and is now an active parish within the Diocese of Monterey.  It's a beautiful church, no doubt about it, but . . . it's not a mission.
There is one area of historic interest--the Santa Cruz Mission State Park, located down the street.  An original single-story adobe which used to house the Ohlone and Yokuts Indians, is now a museum with exhibits of mission life.  It is the only remaining building of the original mission.  The park is a popular venue for community events and activities.

So . . . the Santa Cruz Mission, you might say, is a Late Bloomer.  Now, it is enjoyed by many people.  Back then, not so much.

I want to see all 21 missions, but truth be told, I would probably skip this one if I had limited time.  It was the 12th mission to be built, but I can't help but wonder, if there was regret.  It never seemed very successful, either in livestock production or agricultural output.  It was plagued by strife.

Am I glad I came?  Yes.  To see all 21 missions, even the less interesting ones, puts this whole Mission Era in perspective.  The missions were used as a political tool to gain Spanish subjects.  Although the intentions of many of the padres were indeed good, some of them were not.  The colonization of California by the Spanish came about too little, too late.  A lot of pressure was put on these padres' shoulders.  Not all of them handled it well.


  1. really love the architecture of California's missions, hope to see some of them next year!

    1. How wonderful! May I suggest San Juan Capistrano, south of Los Angeles. It is absolutely enchanting!

  2. that is really mean .I am doing a report on the santa cruz mission.

  3. I appreciate your article about Santa Cruz. My daughter is doing a report on it and you can only get a certain/limited perspective on the Mission's real life a from books. Did you happen to speak/interview a docent there? I would think that documentation of pirate raids and struggles was not something well preserved, if there were any. Feel free to email me at Respectfully, a mom of a 4th grader. April 10, 2017