The 21 missions of Old California were built as part of an ambitious plan by Spain to colonize the western shores of the new world. The mission sites were chosen for their convenient location along a planned trade route. Eventually they were to become civilian cities. For awhile, the missions flourished. But in 1834, a newly independent Mexico secularized them, selling off the land and livestock to the local pueblos. Following the annexation of California by the United States, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church but, by then, most were in ruin.

Padre Junipero Serra

Born Miguel José on November 24, 1713 on the island of Majorca, Father Serra was a Franciscan monk with a love for adventure. He joined a group of friars traveling to New Spain in 1749, and after living and working in the missions of Mexico City for years, he was appointed to replace the Jesuits in Baja California. From there he led the first land expedition into Alta California where he founded the first missions there and shielded them from power-hungry politicians and the military. He died in 1784, his legacy and legend secure.


Photos: © 2000 Howard Anderson

        


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