Religion: Spanish Borderlands

views updated

Religion: Spanish Borderlands

In the early 1500s Spain had nominal claim over a region that stretched from present-day Florida to California. Franciscan missions in New Mexico were first established in 1598 but were pursued inadequately. By 1775 the area had been made part of the Diocese of Durango, and twenty friars administered to Spanish colonists and a dwindling native population. Another segment of borderland territory, later called Arizona, benefited from work begun in 1687 by Eusebio Francisco Kino, S.J. Work continued among his successors until 1767, when Jesuits were suppressed within Spanish jurisdictions.

In 1769 authorities sent Don Gaspar de Portolá northward into California to counteract further Russian movement into the area. Junípero Serra, a Franciscan missionary of wide experience, accompanied this expedition. Under his determined, energetic guidance, nine missions were built along the Pacific Coast: San Diego (1769), San Carlos Borromeo (1770), San Antonio (1771), San Gabriel (1771), San Luis Obispo (1772), San Francisco de Assisi (1776), San Juan Capistrano (1776), Santa Clara (1777), and San Buenaventura (1782). Serra's records indicate that he baptized more than six thousand Indians and confirmed more than five thousand of them. He was convinced that the mission-colony plan of churches, farms, industry, and permanent dwellings was the best means of converting natives to Christianity and of improving their chances of survival in a European-dominated society.

Nine additional missions were founded between 1786 (Santa Barbara) and 1798 (San Luis Rey) under the administration of Serra' successor, Fermín Francisco de Lasuén. Three more were added in the early 1800s, making a total of twenty-one establishments. They formed the context in which four presidios and three secular colonies, together with adjacent ranches, constituted the only Christian settlements in California between 1769 and 1840. Incorporated into the Diocese of Sonora, mission efforts continued until Mexican independence from Spain in 1821. All activities associated with missions and church life declined after that, and the missions were secularized in 1833. This exacerbated the situation, which became even worse with the entry of Americans into California in 1845 and the subsequent ceding of the land by Mexico to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848).

Louisiana had been a mission field since the 1600s, administered by the bishop of Quebec. Spanish authorities took control of the region in 1769 after it was ceded to them by France in the Treaty of Fontainbleu (1762). One ecclesiastical figure who became active there was Antonio de Sedella (also known as Father Antoine), and his agitations were at the center of a fifteen-year dispute over jurisdiction and proper authority in church matters. His superior, Luis Ignacio de Peñalver y Cardenas, became the first ordinary of the Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas in 1793. He worked strenuously to revive an indifferent population, and besides establishing new parishes he laid the foundations for the Cathedral of St. Louis. In 1803 Louisiana was ceded back to France and thence to the United States. By 1809 the last canonical link between Spanish personnel and the churches there was severed.

See alsoCatholicism and Catholics; Professions: Clergy .


Conrad, Glenn R., ed. Cross, Crozier, and Crucible: A Volume Celebrating the Bicentennial of a Catholic Diocese in Louisiana. New Orleans: Center for Louisiana Studies, 1993.

Engelhardt, Zephyrin. The Missions and Missionaries of California, 4 vols. Boston: Milford House, 1974.

Geiger, Maynard J. The Life and Times of Fray Junípero Serra, O.F.M.; or, The Man Who Never Turned Back, 1713–1784, A Biography. Washington, D.C.: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959.

Henry Warner Bowden

About this article

Religion: Spanish Borderlands

Updated About content Print Article


Religion: Spanish Borderlands