Mission Santa Cruz by Ed Bierman, Photoshop work by Cynthia Kirkeby

Mission Santa Cruz by Ed Bierman, Photoshop work by Cynthia Kirkeby

Mission Santa Cruz

Father Fermin Lasuen, second Father-Presidente of the Alta California Mission Chain, founded the Mission Santa Cruz on August 28th, 1777. It was the 12th of California’s 21 missions, and it was doomed from its creation.

Father Fermin, scheduled to dedicate the mission, could not attend the founding mass. The padres instead attended the event from Mission Santa Clara and the commandante of the San Francisco presidio. The presence of a military officer showed the effort of the church to work with the Spanish soldiers.

This effort, however, would go unrewarded at the mission. Despite requests by the fathers that the mission remain separate from other towns, a presidio was built directly across the river from Santa Cruz. The military constructed the base here to protect the coastline and the mission, but the presidio was actually a drain on the mission’s economy. The agriculture raised by the fathers and the Indians, while enough to provide for Santa Cruz, could not support the civilian establishment as well.

The strain placed on the mission by the presidio did not end with money. The civilian settlers were extremely hostile to the Indians and the missionaries. In 1818, the inhabitants of Santa Cruz were sent to hide in the hills because of an expected pirate attack on the mission. The civilians from the presidio agreed to hide the valuable objects of the church. Instead, they stole them.

The settlers at the presidio were also very bad influences on the Indians at Mission Santa Cruz. Because the civilians were so uncontrollable, the padres had to be very strict with the Indias freedoms. This angered some Natives, so they ran away to the presidio. They also took out their aggression on the padres. One padre, Father Quintana, was tricked into visiting a sick Indian. Upon entering the home, angry Indians attacked and killed him.

Like most California missions, the Mission Santa Cruz supported itself and the Native inhabitants of the area by growing crops of wheat and corn. They also raised herds of horses and cattle, and cultivated grapes in a vineyard. Despite a prosperous beginning, the mission became increasingly difficult to maintain. A series of unfortunate events led to its decay and eventual closing.

Although Santa Cruz proved unsuccessful as a mission, it thrives today as a nonreligious city. The original church, which was destroyed by a series of earthquakes in the 19th century, has not been rebuilt. A scaled replica does stand there today, though, reminding the visitors of the first building to ever stand in Santa Cruz.