Friday, January 20, 2012


My sister Doreen and I followed the Mapquest directions right to the plaza on School Road. There - as promised - was Mission Santa Cruz. We parked on the street directly in front of the church. "But where," I wondered, "is the usual California State Park Emblem with the Grizzly Bear?" Hm. Curious.

Inside the museum/gift shop I made my usual inquiries about park closures. The lady be-hind the desk was confused. She knew nothing about closing Mission Santa Cruz. It quickly became apparent that this particular building is not the state park Mission. Rather, it is a replica of the original mission church that was destroyed in the 1857 earthquake. Mission Santa Cruz is not a state park. It belongs to the Catholic church.

However, Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park was just a half block down the street. So, Mapquest had not steered us wrong after all. We decided to go ahead and tour the Mission Santa Cruz/Holy Cross Church since they had artifacts from the original mission.

This replica church was built in 1931 as a memorial to the original mission. It is half the size and is stucco rather than adobe. It sits about 200 feet southeast of the original site.

The funding for this project came from a wealthy Santa Cruz citizen named Gladys S. Doyle, While this memorial church resembles the original mission, it is understood that it is probably not a perfect replica, in that it had to be reconstructed from available pictures and stories.

An attached wing holds artifacts from the original Mission. Ornate, ceremonial vestments, crucifixes, chalices and decorations are displayed behind glass. A peaceful courtyard and garden inside the church walls has a fountain, a baptismal and of course, a statue of Junipero Serra, founder of the California Missions System.

Now, on to Santa Cruz Mission SHP, a two minute walk down the street. Sitting atop Mission Hill, it offers a patio, gardens, and excellent views of the city of Santa Cruz. The park features the only building - out of the original 32 buildings - left of the 12th California Mission. Founded by the Franciscans in 1791, it is an adobe building that was used for native family housing, called "The Home for New Citizens." (!) It is the oldest building in Santa Cruz County, built in 1824 by the Yokut natives. Exhibits inside tell the story of the mission through the lens of the experience of the Ohlone and Yokut people. Needless to say, it is not always a flattering picture of the early California Church.

The Mission history is de-picted differently now than when I was a fourth grader studying California history. Today many of the Missions tell of injustices toward Cali-fornia Native Americans. While the tone of the two organizations is different, both the State Parks and the Cath-olic Church acknowledge cruelty, slavery and forced conversions to the Indians.

Earnestly believing in their religion, Franciscan missionaries underwent severe hardships to bring Christianity to California natives. Food, clothing, shelter and religious instruction were given in exchange for labor and obedience. But all too often, the people the Spanish came to save suffered and died from European diseases for which they had no immunities. Unsanitary conditions, confinement and physical punishment further reduced the indigenous population. And although professing conversion to Christianity, many of the Ohlones would continue to practice their own religion in secret.

In 1821, Mexico won its eleven-year war for independence against Spain, which included California. In 1834, Mexico passed new laws that ended the Franciscan priests' control over the California missions. The missions were secularized. All of the land and animals that the missions had owned was to be divided up between the natives who had lived there and the nearby Californios. Unfortunately, very few of the natives ever received any of the property.

A local family named Rodriguez bought part of this adobe building in 1838, and began covering the adobe walls with wood. Although is wasn't their intention, their work helped to preserve the original adobe structure. A descendant of the Rodriguez family lived there until 1983, when she died at the age of 104.

Doreen and I ducked in and out of the various rooms in the long residential adobe, through doorways that were built at a time when people were less tall. Each room displayed living situations from various times during the adobe's existence. I was particular fascinated with a long sturdy ladder, held together with leather ties, that led to a loft in one of the rooms.

In 1850, California became The United States thirty-first state. A devastating earthquake in 1857 finished off the Mission Church. Roof beams and tiles, as well as foundation stones, were carried away for other uses and no trace of the original mission remained. President Buchanan returned Mission Santa Cruz to the Catholic Church in 1859.

Two hundred years after the founding of Mission Santa Cruz, this 175-year-old building became the head-quarters of Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park. It took eight years to research, excavate, and restore the remaining seven rooms. The museum opened in 1991.

Outside in the garden, school children learn to make candles and cook handmade tortillas. I spotted a hummingbird on a vine that I thought looked a bit like one of the "El Camino Real" Missions bells along Highway 101. Flowers bloomed in the picnic area, and a Scrub Jay perched on a picnic table below an orange tree that overlooked the City of Santa Cruz.

Back at the car, the sun began to set behind the memorial church. For a fuller picture of this Mission, I recommend visiting both the State Park and the replica at Holy Cross Catholic Church. The prospects for this park remaining open are hopeful. Friends of Santa Cruz Parks are working to keep the four parks in their area open through a non-profit partnership.

Hope to see you at the parks.


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