History of Mission Santa Cruz

How old is the Mission at Santa Cruz?

Two Padres started the Mission at Santa Cruz. (In the Catholic Church, the priests are called “Fathers,” and Padre is the Spanish word for Father.)  The two Padres were named Alonzo Salazar and Baldomero Lopez, and they kept diaries of what happened, so we know quite a bit about them.

And what did they do when they arrived at the place we now call Santa Cruz?

Well, they put up a tent beside a hill, the very hill where the Mission Santa Cruz now stands. They wanted their mission to be close to the  river, so that they could have water to drink and for watering their crops.

If it sounds funny to you, to think of two priests putting up a tent, you have to remember what it was like back then.  There were no buildings and no streets like there are today. The closest neighbors they had were many miles away in Santa Clara and Monterey.

They must have felt very lonely, and perhaps a little afraid, camping beside that beautiful hill. Of course, they had brought supplies with them, because there weren’t any grocery stores where they could buy food. The Mission at Santa Clara gave them cows and horses and oxen.  The Mission at Carmel gave them seven mules.  The Mission at San Francisco gave them sixty sheep and ten rams and two bushels of barley, which is a kind of a grain.

You can imagine what a racket they probably made, coming into that peaceful valley with all of the cows mooing and the sheep bleating.  They must have been very busy those first few days building pens and clearing away trees to make pastures.

Even with all of those animals, the Padres almost ran out of food.  They had to buy beans and corn from the soldiers, and they paid them 42 dollars for it.

Do you know what else they bought from the soldiers?  Chocolate.  One of them must have had a sweet tooth.

The Padres worked very hard, and the first Mission at Santa Cruz was dedicated on September 25, 1791.  If you want to do a little math, you’ll see that the Mission at Santa Cruz will be 209 years old in the year 2,000.

The First Mission

Do you know what’s standing today in the place where the Padres built the first Mission of Santa Cruz? There’s a lumber yard and a hardware store there now. The Padres really could have used that hardware store when they were building the Mission, couldn’t they?  Still, you might wonder what ever happened to that first Mission that they worked so hard to build.

Well, you might know what it’s like to move to a new school or a new neighborhood.  It’s exciting to meet new friends and see new places, but it can be a little scary too.  Sometimes it takes a while before you can find your way around. Or maybe the rules are different, and you make some mistakes before you learn them. It was a lot like that for the Padres too. 

They were a long way from home, in a place where they’d never been before, and they made some mistakes before they learned the rules.  Can you guess the first mistake they made?

You remember that they built the Mission near a beautiful river called the San Lorenzo.  They wanted to be able to have water for drinking and washing and for their plants. What they didn’t know was that it rains very hard in Santa Cruz in the winter. 

In a matter of just a few days, the beautiful, peaceful river they had built their Mission beside began to flood.  It rose over its banks and washed the first Mission away, down into the ocean.

How very sad they must have felt!  All of that work lost, because they made a mistake.  How do you feel about that?  Is it okay to make mistakes sometimes?  Well, sure it is.  That’s the way that we learn, isn’t it?  When you were learning to ride a bicycle or to skate, you had to fall down a few times to learn how to get your balance.

That’s just what the Padres did too.  They started building a new Mission right away.  They weren’tdiscouraged.  Besides, they’d read in the Bible about another flood that was even worse than the one they’d been through. LikeNoah in the Bible, they were men of great faith in God.

You know, there was another mistake the Padres made that was funny.  They forgot to put a stone foundation under the Mission.  What do you suppose happened?  Right in the middle of their church services, gophers would pop up out of the ground! 

That might make it a little hard to keep your mind on your prayers.

So, you can see that the Padres had a hard time at the start.  They kept right on working, though, and they built a new Mission that was even better than the first.  They built this one on the top of the hill, so that they would never be flooded again.


What Did They Use To Build The Mission And How Did They Do It?

You know what it’s like when you build something with your Mom or Dad.  You go down to the hardware store and you buy some boards and nails, or maybe some bricks.  Then you drive home and put them all together. Suppose, though, that there were no hardware stores and no bricks and no boards.  What would you do?  Well, that’s what the Padres had to decide and they were pretty smart about it.

First of all, they’d need bricks, wouldn’t they?  How do you make a brick, if you don’t have any?  Well, the Spanish had been making a kind of a brick for a very long time that’s called adobe.  Here’s how they made them: You know that there’s a type of a soil that’s called clay and that it very sticky when it’s wet.  They would take clay and add some quartz and a few other minerals to it and then they’d put it in water to make it wet. 

Then, they’d add some straw to help it all stick together and mold it into the shapes of bricks. Finally, they’d set it out in the sun and let it bake for a couple of weeks.  When it dried out, it was as hard as could be, and that’s how they made their bricks.

Still, you can’t make a house or a church out of only bricks.  It wouldn’t be very comfortable, would it, to not have any windows or doors.  What else did they need?  They needed wood, of course, and there was plenty of that to be found right around them. 

In fact, there’s a very special kind of tree that grows in Santa Cruz, that you can’t find in most of the world;  it’s called a “redwood,” because the wood is red.

They look kind of like giant Christmas trees, don’t they?  Did you know that redwood trees are the oldest living things in the world?  Yes, some of them were quite old when Jesus was born.  We know now that they are very special and we mustn’t ever cut them down, but the Padres didn’t know that.  This is what they did to make boards out the redwood trees:

Once they cut them down, they had to make them into flat sections for boards and beams.  They would take large iron spikes called “wedges,” and hammer them into the trees in a long line. 

This would make the trees split into pieces which they could cut up into smaller pieces.  Then they’d use other tools to smooth them out, and that’s how they made their boards.

As you can see, they would put up boards, called beams, that they’d cut out of the redwood trees.  Then, they’d make the roof out of straw and reeds and branches that they wove together like you’d weave a basket.  And, finally, they’d tie the roof onto the beams with strips of rawhide.

They were pretty smart, weren’t they?  Even so, they made some mistakes when they built their first Mission.  Would you like to know some of the mistakes that they made?  Just click on the bell and we’ll tell you all about them.


What Did The Next Mission Look Like?

Actually, we have a pretty good idea of what Mission Santa Cruz looked like when they rebuilt it on the top of the hill.  There was a French artist named Leon Trousset who painted it when he travelled through Santa Cruz in the 1850s, and his painting is still hanging in the Misión Galería Gift Shop.

You can see that the part in the middle is a church, but you can also see that they had walls on the sides of the church.  In fact, part of one wall is still standing behind the Holy Cross Parish Church. 

You can tell that they made the wall out of whatever rocks they found around the Mission. They would put the rocks together with a kind of a cement called “mortar,” and just keep piling on more rocks until they had a wall.

Why did they have walls beside the church, anyway?  Most churches don’t, you know.  There was a lot more that happened at the old Missions than just going to church, though church was the most important part of it.

We know that the Padres were wonderful farmers, for instance. They were responsible for bringing agriculture to California. 

The Padres harvested wheat and barley and corn and peas and beans.  They were also pretty good ranchers.  When they arrived at the first Mission site, they only had 33 cattle.  By 1814, they had 3,300 cattle, 3,500 sheep, 600 horses, 25 mules, and 46 hogs. 

Besides growing all of that food and taking care of all of those animals, they also cut down trees and sent lumber out to the other Missions. Santa Cruz was an important source of redwood for the whole mission system.

Of course, the Padres couldn’t do all of that themselves.  There were Native People who lived at the Mission, and they did a lot of the work.  Here’s a model of the Mission that a 4th grader made.

Isn’t that a wonderful model?  Perhaps your class could make a model, too.  You can see that there were rooms for the people at the Mission, and they had very busy days there. 

They would get out of bed when the sun rose and go to church to pray.  Then they’d have breakfast and work until noon, when they would go to church again.  After that, they’d take an afternoon nap that the Spanish call a “siesta.”

Then more work, until the evening, when the bells of the church would ring out and call them home.  They’d go to church one more time, have dinner, and then go to bed.  It probably sounds like they went to church a lot more than we do, and you’re right.

You have to remember, though, that worshiping God was the most important thing to the Padres.  They wanted to teach people about Christianity and baptize them.  Baptism is what priests do when a person decides to become a Christian.  The priest draws a cross on your forehead with special water, called “holy water,” that they keep in a container called a “baptismal font.” 

The Padres baptised 1,684 people in the first 23 years that they were there.  The original baptismal font that they used is still at Mission Santa Cruz. It is nicely carved of local limestone.

Imagine all of those Native People and their babies being baptised in the font.  That was one of the most important activities of the Mission, introducing the Native People to the sacraments of Christianity. The baptismal font sits in a peaceful courtyard behind the Misión Galería now. 

When you come to visit, ask the curator in the Mission to show it to you. Learn now about the second mission.

Pray for All