Historical place

Mission San Buenaventura is a complex historical site

John R. Beyer

A boy was born on November 24, 1713 in the small hamlet of Petra on the island of Majorca off the coast of Spain. His name was Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer – later known simply as Father Serra.

The boy grew up in a humble environment, working in the wheat and bean fields with his parents, Antonio and Margarita.

Little did they know that the young man would one day have such an important role to play on the other side of the world.

Miquel felt a religious vocation and joined the Franciscan Order in Palma. He was given the name Junipero in honor of Friar Junipero, who had been a close friend of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order.

He became a priest in 1737 and left for university. His teachers and classmates believed him to be brilliant in his studies and, in fact, he earned his doctorate in philosophy at the Lullian College in Palma de Mallorca.

His superiors thought he had a great and bright future educating other young men who had also entered the priesthood.

But it wasn’t for Miquel. He had the urge to travel within him and wanted to be a missionary in distant lands.

I understand the wanderlust of visiting places I’ve never seen before – it’s exciting. Seeing new sights and experiencing the thrill of something unique is always on my bucket list.

That’s what adventure is – no matter where that adventure awaits.

Father Junipero Serra, as he was called in those days, knew where he wanted to go.

He ended up in Mexico City in 1750. Now, I won’t go into detail here about his time in Mexico City except to say that in 1752 he was put in charge of the Spanish Inquisition.

Not a glorious time for the Catholic Church.

Laureen and I found ourselves in the Ventura area recently and decided to stop at Mission San Buenaventura and take a look.

We have been there before, many years ago, and it is a lovely place to visit with meticulously maintained gardens, tall trees, rows of rose bushes behind a high thick wall with a lovely large fountain in the bubbling water.

The promenade leading to the front of the basilica is wide and lined on both sides with older but well-maintained buildings which now house restaurants, bars and other types of shops.

A white tiled trough one foot wide and three inches deep crosses the middle of the promenade from just in front of the basilica to a huge fountain a hundred yards from the church.

A good sized grassy park is just west of the site where many people were enjoying the late afternoon beach time.

It is a peaceful place to stroll. And we strolled, with Laureen jumping on a mammoth-sized blue Adirondack chair parked along the boardwalk.

“I feel very small,” she says.

“Anyone would be in a chair the size of a Boeing 747.”

San Buenaventura was founded in March 1782 by Father Serra; it was one of nine such missions that Serra dedicated out of a total of 21 missions built.

The Jesuit Order had been ordered by Rome in the late 17th century to begin establishing missions to educate the natives in the ways of Christianity in what would later be known as Baja California. But in 1767, King Carlos III expelled all those who belonged to the Jesuit Order and forced them to return to Spain.

Some research has suggested that the reason they were expelled was that King Carlos III believed the religious order had amassed a huge amount of wealth and was becoming too powerful in the distant lands.

Hmm, it sounded like maybe he was a little jealous.

“These guys just feel too big in their dresses,” King may have said.

Anyway, when the Jesuits left, Serra and the Franciscan Order took over to establish missions.

“Want to stroll through the gardens? ” I asked.

Lauren nodded. “I would love.”

And so, we did.

After Serra left the mission and headed north, he left Padre Cambon in charge and he immediately began construction of a stone aqueduct. The mission needed a full-time water supply, and he found it along the Ventura River. The aqueduct ran nearly seven miles in two holding tanks stationed behind the San Buenaventura Mission.

The actual red tile and brick filtration tanks are still there in the grounds to be seen.

It was quite a feat to build such a water system, but Cambon had the help of local Chumash residents.

Not sure if it’s really a voluntary action from Chumash’s side, though.

The Chumash were the Native Americans who lived in the area when the Spaniards first arrived. Their territory included the coastal regions of central and southern California and three of the Channel Islands.

Natives are thought to have lived in and around where the Chumash resided for over 11,000 years. In fact, in 1959, archaeologist Phil Orr found a human femur on Santa Rosa Island and radiocarbon dated it to over 13,000 years old. They called the remains Arlington Springs Man.

I do not know why. Santa Rosa Man seems so much more authentic and the place is identified. A song could probably be written about it.

“I’m just an old man from Santa Rosa lying on an island surrounded by the blue waters of the ocean. Oh, for the rest of my bones…”

But I’m just a humble writer and not the one who found such an old femur.

The aqueduct’s water supply system has worked well for decades, delivering water to orchards and gardens inside and outside the mission while allowing potable water to s flow easily within the church grounds.

Unfortunately, a huge flood in 1862 completely destroyed the aqueduct.

A woman we met at the mission told us that the ruins of the aqueduct are still visible a few miles northeast of the mission.

A sidenote, after visiting the mission, we ventured to the ruins and sure enough, there they were. The skill and effort to build such an aqueduct, even hundreds of years later, was easy to see. It was very impressive.

An interesting place to visit is the small cemetery behind the mission. Three men are buried there: Padre Vicente de Santa Maria. died in 1806, Padre Jose Senan, died in 1823, and Padre Suner, died in 1831.

Inside the museum is the historical period of Serra’s arrival and the role he played in establishing the mission.

But for me, a lot of effort is put on the importance of the Chumash people themselves during the same period.

Information regarding the daily life of the Chumash details how they spent their days weaving baskets, making clothes, tending gardens, planting orchards, caring for various animals – cattle and horses – and receiving tuition of religion and Spanish.

The mission was visited by a merchant named Alfred Robinson, who wrote in his 1846 book, “Life in California”: “In their season they have apples, pears, peaches, pomegranates, tuna or prickly pears and grapes.”

There are art projects illustrating the early days of the mission. Paintings and drawings by those who lived and worked at the mission when it was founded and in subsequent years. Handicrafts created by hands long dead but as if they had been woven yesterday.

Museums are like that – a place to visit, understand and appreciate those who are no longer there but will never be forgotten.

Mission San Buenaventura is such a place. It is peaceful, beautiful and historic.

Of course, a lot of history has passed since Father Junipero Serra entered Chumash territory to build a mission and much of it, in modern eyes, is not to our liking.

Many of the natives who were encountered along the way by the Spaniards and others were treated horribly, there is no denying that, but at the same time it is our combined history and should be seen as such.

The adage “We can’t change the past only the future” rings true when you visit places like San Buenaventura Mission or any of its other 20 cousins, but that doesn’t mean they can’t. should not be visited.

It was a different time and sometimes when you travel you have to remember that – it’s only fair.

For more information: www.sanbuenaventuramission.org