This article was posted on Saturday, Jul 01, 2023

Mission San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego

 The Missions

The King of Spain, in the spring of 1769, ordered Inspector-General Jose de Galvez to build and occupy (in the military sense), two fortified missions in Alta California. One mission was to be in San Diego and the other in Monterey.

In the end, 21 missions were built. They were spaced roughly 40 miles apart, along the heavily littered dirt trail, grandly called El Camino Real (The King’s Highway). The present Pacific Coast Highway (US-101) roughly corresponds to the path of the original El Camino Real. At one time, the route was marked at intervals by mission bells, 18 inches in diameter and cast of bronze. 

While the length of the trail has been disputed, most reports indicate the distance is approximately 800 miles. This will vary depending on whether the reach is measured in air miles (“as the crow flies”) or marching miles. Marching miles are burdened by terrain difficulties which extend the distance walked.

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Horses today live a softer life and 40-mile days might be considered a strenuous achievement, especially if not separated by adequate rest days. In Europe the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI) governs modern endurance rides of 50 miles. But at the time, those 40 miles between missions were just thought of as a good day’s ride for a reasonably fit caballero on a sound horse. The distance would permit a gentleman, at the end of the day, to refresh himself with a little wine, a hot meal and a buggy mattress. The net receipts helped support the Mission.


Mission Bells

The path between missions was originally marked by crosses carved on the trunks of convenient trees. That was sufficient for foot travelers and horsemen at the 15 minutes-per-mile pace of a walking horse. But as cars, paved roads and better maps became increasingly common, crosses carved on trees lost their utility and were replaced by cast iron or patina bronze “Mission Bells”. The bells were all made by a single foundry, the California Bell Company, in Saratoga, CA.

California Bell Company has a brief but wonderfully comprehensive history of its bells in its website (see italicized, below).

The idea of placing a marker along the highway and in front of each Mission did not come about until August 15, 1906, when a cast iron 85-pound bell and piping designed by Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes was placed into the ground at the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora Reina de Los Ángeles, also known as the Plaza Church near Union Depot in Los Angeles.

The bells were inscribed, “El Camino real 1769-1906”. The dates reflect the founding of the first Mission in 1769 and the dedication of the first bell in Los Angeles in August 1906.

The plan had been to place one bell along each mile of El Camino Real Highway, in front of each Mission and also selected historical landmarks. By 1913 a goal of 450 bells was reached. One bell was placed in front of each Mission and the balances were placed along the El Camino Real Highway. Since then, many bells were lost to road reconstruction and theft.

After a series of unsuccessful attempts over the past 50 years, John Kolstad, now owner of Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes’ original California Bell Company and Keith Robinson, Principal Landscape Architect of Caltrans, have teamed together and installed 555 original El Camino Real Bells along Highway 101. These bells have been installed on Caltrans property from Los Angeles to San Francisco. California Bell is now working with cities to reinstall the original bells in the remaining areas of the original route. From Sonoma to San Francisco and Los Angeles to San Diego, new bells will be appearing along El Camino Real. Call your local City Manager for information on their installation progress.


Inspector-General Jose de Galvez

Early in 1769 Carlos III, King of Spain, received word that Russia had established a trading post within the Spanish-claimed territory of Alta California. His response was to order Inspector-General Jose de Galvez to immediately begin the development and occupation of two mission-fortresses along the coast of California, as noted above. They were declared as missions from the crosses. They were revealed as fortresses from the lack of ground floor windows.

General de Galvez served as the King’s personal traveling representative in New Spain. As such, he carried sweeping powers, on some occasions greater than the king’s in-place governing official.

General de Galvez was a man of judgement as well as authority. Both were demonstrated early in his career when de Galvez was assigned the task of reforming the finances of New Spain to increase the income received by the crown. Under his management government revenues rose from 6 million pesos in 1763 to 8 million pesos in 1767. Ten years later they were at 12 million. The crown was pleased.


The Jesuits

Spain has a history of expulsion. The Jews were banished in 1492; the Moors in 1609, and the Jesuits in 1767. The expulsions affected not only Spain, but all the lands claimed by the Spanish, including Alta California.

With the Jesuits gone, somebody had to assume responsibility for the missions. The Indians still had to be educated in the Spanish manner, trained in the Spanish manner and supervised in the Spanish manner. De Galvez, exercising both his authority and his judgement, replaced the Jesuits with the Franciscans.


The Franciscans

The Second Council of Lyon (1274) approved four religious orders as mendicants: the Franciscans, the Dominicans, Augustinians, and Carmelites. Individual members of a mendicant (begging) order are called friar (plural, friars). Their common characteristic is that they take a vow of poverty. Individual Franciscan friars own nothing (personal poverty) and neither does their order (corporate poverty).

Friars are encouraged to learn one or more marketable skills, for it is recognized as generally better to offer your labor than to beg for bread. But when there are no jobs to be had, begging becomes an honorable act. It is honorable for the mendicant to trust God for his sustenance. It is honorable for the giver to see a need and satisfy it.

Poverty has a second-order effect: itinerancy. Owning nothing and having nothing allows a friar to wander.

The island of Mallorca lies at the edge of the Balearic Sea, two hundred miles east of Valencia, Spain. The Balearic Islands (with Mallorca being the largest) have been an autonomous region of Spain since 1983, but they have been occupied for much longer. The earliest known evidence of habitation dates to the Late Neolithic-Early Bronze Age around 2500 B.C.

The Franciscans, a Catholic religious order founded in 1209 by the Italian friar Saint Francis of Assisi, have been a presence in Mallorca for the last 500 years. The order is central to St. Junipero Serra’s story: he entered their company at the age of 16 taking the name of Saint Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper.

Over the next 19-years, until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He became famous for the compassion and relevance of his preaching. But one day he suddenly gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of Saint Francis Solano in South America. Junipero’s burning desire, like Francis Solano’s, was to convert native peoples in the New World.

Disembarking at Veracruz, he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula for the next 18 years, over time becoming the president of the missions there. Because the friars were not confined to a monastery (like monks) and free to travel (unlike monks), that does not mean they were unorganized. The Franciscans supervised the religious training, secular education and labor of the Indians over an extended area. The area, not just the building, was recognized as the mission and missions had to be self-sufficient.  Thus, the term included fields for agriculture and pastures for livestock.

The mission president had management authority over one or more missions and, by extension, over the education, training and supervision of the people, both indigenous and foreign, benefitted by the mission.

During this period Friar Junipero Serra gained a reputation of being short on discipline and long on persuasion. When he wished something to happen, he had the political sense to work through others that wanted the same thing. This ability was to serve him well.


The Threat

King Carlos III learned in 1769, that Russia had built a fortified trading post in the Spanish-claimed lands north of San Francisco. The post became known as Fort Ross, a diminutive of Fort “Russian”. The purpose of Fort Ross was twofold: first to acquire from the local Indians sea otter pelts, the sale of which back in Russia would help defray some or all of the costs of the fort. Because Alaska had a short growing season (defined as the period from last frost to first frost), the second purpose of Fort Ross was to grow the vegetables Russia’s settlements in Alaska could not grow themselves.

It is a fundamental principle between near-peers that the threatened nation, for existential purposes, must respond not to what the opposing nation might do, but upon what it could do. King Carlos III had to consider that Russia might be growing cabbages, but it could well be a subterfuge for invasion. Responding to the latter possibility, he authorized Inspector-General de Galvez to construct two fortified missions, one at San Diego and the other north of San Francisco.

To General de Galvez’s sound judgement and broad authority, Friar Junipero Serra added a deep political sense. They were a formidable combination in the creation and organization of California’s missions.  More, later.


This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as professional advice. Klarise Yahya is not a financial planner. Nothing in this article is presented as investment guidance. For specific circumstances, please contact an appropriately licensed professional. Klarise Yahya is a Commercial Mortgage Broker specializing in difficult-to-place mortgages for any kind of property. If you are thinking of refinancing or purchasing real estate, perhaps Klarise Yahya can help. For a complimentary mortgage analysis, please call her at (818) 414-7830 or email [email protected].