By David Kier
Each of the missions of Baja California have a story about how they came to be and what were the challenges faced by the Spanish and the missionaries who were tasked with converting the Native population into loyal citizens of the Crown.
The Jesuits were the first to have a hand at the task and did so for seventy years, at the end of which time conditions had turned the King against them. The Franciscans replaced the Jesuits on the peninsula for five years, but with such promising opportunity in Alta California, handing over the peninsula to the Dominican Order was an easy decision. Padre Junípero Serra (now a Saint) was the Franciscan president in the Californias, and he founded one mission on the peninsula (San Fernando de Velicatá) before arriving at San Diego, following an arduous overland trek from Loreto.
Four years later, the Dominicans took over operating all the Baja California missions and were anxious to add new missions in the vast region between the mission of San Fernando and the mission of San Diego. Their first mission was El Rosario. Just one year later, in 1775, they opened their second mission, Santo Domingo. Five more years would pass before the third mission was established. Let us see why…
A dispute erupted between the Dominican leader, Padre Vicente Mora, and the California Lieutenant-Governor, Fernando Javier de Rivera y Moncado. Mora desired to place the next mission higher up and far inland of the established Camino Real to San Diego. Padre Mora had Padre José Aivár of Santo Domingo investigate a location near the summit of the Cieneguilla mountains. Rivera denied the request without consulting the governor. Governor Felipe de Neve, writing from Monterey, was pretty clear that the next mission needed to be along the established road between Lower and Upper California. That was the arrangement made with the Dominicans and since the government was funding the missions, that was where the mission would need to be placed.
Governor Neve wrote; “I proceeded to inform myself about the site on the summit of the Sierra de Cieneguilla and insinuated to the said Padre Aivár that he did not have the authority to proceed with the said foundation, which besides being considerably separated from the agreed upon coastal line, offered serious inconveniences because of its location, to the safe keeping of the establishment, e.g., as the sustenance of the troops, the impossibility of providing enough troops to aid her in case of attack, and to provide her with food, since there is a shortage of mules for carrying food.”
On July 11, 1779, Neve wrote to Mora urging him to examine a place called Santa Rosalía, which he believed was the best place for the next mission. Located about ten miles from the ocean and fifty miles north from Santo Domingo. The governor was irritated that Mora had not progressed with the mission’s founding. Padre Mora was reluctant to commit to the founding without a commitment of troops and provisions from the government. Neve was under pressure to get the project underway from his superiors. On October 24, 1779, Neve authorized, and then ordered Mora to build the mission.
So simple was it to give orders. Where in the poverty-stricken mission lands could one get the food, cattle, and other supplies? From the poverty stricken Old Missions (of Lower California), was Neve’s answer:
“In accordance with what has been said it is essential that the Old Missions contribute to the development of this one, with the helps indicated, in proportion to their capabilities. May it be done graciously as it has been done till now, or from the thousand pesos amount which has been assigned for each foundation.”
The location, called Santa Rosalía by Governor Neve, was thoroughly investigated over the following months. The abundant supply of water and warm springs, discovered nearby, made for a promising establishment. On August 27, 1780, Padre Miguel Hidalgo and Padre Juaquín Valero founded Mission San Vicente Ferrer and building began on what would be an important mission.
See the mission site, in a self-guided park setting, just 1 km. west of the highway at Km. 88.5, before entering the town of San Vicente. A small museum is at the entrance to the mission park. Donations are appreciated!
David Kier is a veteran Baja traveler, author of 'Baja California - Land Of Missions' and co-author of 'Old Missions of the Californias'. Visit the Old Missions website.