Jesuit Missions on the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico

Jesuit Missions in Baja California

Jesuit Missions Baja California
The California missions were generally thought to begin from 1769, but the first permanent mission, Misión Nuestra Señora de Loreto Concho in Baja California, was founded seventy-three years earlier, on October 25, 1697, by the Jesuit Father Juan María de Salvatierra. Over the next 70 years Jesuits founded a further 17 missions along the El Camino Real.
Jesuit missions California
Jesuit missions California
Mission Santa Maria de los Angeles was the last of the missions established by the Jesuits in Baja California in 1767. The site chosen was the Cochimi settlement of Cabujakaamung ('arroyo of crags'), west of Bahia San Luis Gonzaga near the Gulf of California coast. This was only months before the Jesuits were expelled, as King Carlos III of Spain became wary of their growing power, from Baja California.
Of the 678 Jesuits expelled from Mexico in 1768, 75% were Mexican-born. There were protests in Mexico at the exile of so many Jesuit members of elite families, but the Jesuits themselves obeyed the order. Since the Jesuits had owned extensive landed estates in Mexico, which supported both their evangelization of the indigenous, the properties were a source of wealth for the crown. The Jesuit missions in Baja California were turned over to the Franciscans.
Francisco Javier Clavijero
Francisco Javier Clavijero
Misión San Ignacio
Misión San Ignacio
photograph by Gregg M. Erickson
One of the Mexican Jesuits who lived out his life in Italian exile was Francisco Javier Clavijero, who wrote a history of Mexico with emphasis on the indigenous peoples, in particular the Cochimi. 'Historia de la Antigua o Baja California' 1789 in 4 volumes, also reflects on the works of the Jesuit missionaries in Baja California, including Miguel Venegas, Juan Maria Salvatierra, Eusebio Francisco Kino, Juan de Ugarte, Francisco Maria Piccolo, Fernando Consag. English translations were published in San Francisco in 1864 and in Los Angeles in 1938. Father Francisco Javier Clavijero died in Bologna April 2, 1787, aged 56; he did not live to see the final publication of 'Historia de la Antigua o Baja California.'
Rock art Santa Teresa figures Baja California
Rock art from Santa Teresa with
figures depicted raising their arms
Another Jesuit priest who studied the Cochimi culture was Sigismundo Taraval, stationed at San Ignacio in 1732. A notable episode while he was at San Ignacio was the bringing of the inhabitants of Cedros Island - home to some of the earliest Cochimi-speaking occupants of the Pacific coast of North America - to the mission. In a relatively detailed account of the islanders' aboriginal lifeways, Taraval presented what were perhaps the earliest speculations concerning the region's prehistoric past.
He left ethnological records of the rock art which he was certain was created by the Cochimi. He remarked that the 'guamas', or shamans, of these people decorated their heads with all kinds of objects and that they would 'placate' the sun by raising their arms to it. Such a pose may be depicted in the rock art that we see today, with the characteristic and dramatic larger-than-life human figures, now called 'monos', sometimes black, sometimes red and black, with arms raised in salutation.
In 1733 he was sent south to found the Mision Santa Rosa de las Palmas at the modern site of Todos Santos. The following year, the local Peric and Guaycura Indians staged a serious revolt against Jesuit rule, and Taraval was forced to flee, first to La Paz and then to Isla Espiritu Santo. He wrote a detailed if partisan account of the revolt and its subsequent suppression.
The Great Murals of Baja California are now thought to be the most distinctive art trove in North America. In the 1970's the author and photographer Harry W. Crosby explored the central mountains of Baja California by mule and pack burros in a systematic search for these rock paintings, resulting in his publication 'The Cave Paintings of Baja California: Discovering the Great Murals of an Unknown People'. Indeed, it was Crosby who coined the phrase 'Great Murals'.
In 1993 the Sierra de San Francisco - considered to be the centre of Baja California's rock art - appeared on UNESCO's World Heritage List.

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