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Relocation Of Tombs

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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:15 pm    Post subject: Relocation Of Tombs Reply with quote

WHEN evil days fell upon the Missions through their confiscation by the native political conspirators, Carmel, the Capital Mission— sold in 1845 by Governor Pio Pico for a song—fell to ruin, its Indian neophytes adrift.

The roof falling in 1852 completely obliterated Serra's tomb. Not since 1835 had a friar lived at the Mission. As we have seen, the romantic establishment was all but vanquished by the elements, aided by vandals who held it to be their legitimate prey.

In 1856, Father Cayetano Sorentine, of the Presidio Chapel in Monterey, sought to identify Junipero's grave, as well as the others. Of it he says:

"The next day, the 11th [of March] the dirt that was in the altar fell on the gospel side, and following the traditional directions, we began to excavate. And we found in this a well-sealed vault, with a coffin in which there was a priest with a stole and good vestments, We could see by the stole that it had epaulettes of fine gold, easily recognized.

"This body of a priest that we found so luxuriously vested, something that none of the others had, makes me believe that it is the one we are looking for.” (Second from the north grave.)

The next time the tombs in the roofless Mission received attention, it was Father Angelo Casanova of Monterey who carried on the work, in the summer of 1882. The building of Hotel Del Monte in 1880 had stimulated interest in Old Monterey, and many persons of note were driving out to the ruined Mission. It had indeed become a tryst for lovers of romance—California's Melrose Abbey. Inhabited by owls and bats, and the cattle from the surrounding ranchos, it was a melancholy, if alluring picture—roof gone, doors gone, window casings gone, its altar a wreck.

Having successfully relocated the tombs, Father Casanova rode into town on July 2nd, a picturesque figure on his sorrel horse, excitedly relating to the loiterers at the Plaza corner (northeast corner of Pearl and Alvarado) his finding of Serra's grave. And when the drowsy group crowded near, the padre invited all to assemble at the Mission on the third, when the graves would be opened, for all to gaze therein.

It was my privilege, a curious youngster, to be standing on the edge of the motley group—caballeros, vaqueros, ragged small boys, cackling geese, important visitors from Del Monte and the customary group of somnolent old men—to hear the words of the white-haired padre, in Spanish, of course, of which neither my companion nor I knew a syllable.

It so happened that a company of cadets from San Francisco was in camp at Del Monte—St. Patrick's Cadets, a crack company of young men, Captain Ben Hanlon commanding. At Father Casanova's invitation, they served as a guard of honor at the ceremonies.

The lame, the blind and the halt, the rich and poor, old and young, were assembled under the old beams. The ice-cream man and the pop-corn venders had early established their positions in the patio, then a stubble-field. The road wound up from the southeast.

Father Casanova, standing at the head of the Serra tomb, told the story of the great Franciscan and his followers with such feeling that, with the rest, I was transfixed—though I understood not a word. As the sun formed a halo about his shaggy gray head, the old priest was himself transported.

I recall clearly how the young officer descended into the grave to pick up the handkerchief that bound Serra's ankles together. It was apparently intact. But instantly it touched the air, it disintegrated. As I stood at the foot of the tomb, I can recall only the bones of the legs—those poor old legs that had walked from San Diego to San Francisco not once, nor twice, but twice twice.

The restoration of the church in 1884 as a result of that epochal third of July, will be treated in a later chapter. But it may relieve one's feelings to here record a protest against the type of restoration. Not only must the architectural crime of' 84 be protested—substituting a snow roof for the low-pitched tiled roof—but for the architectural crimes that followed. The new buildings at the south are set ruthlessly down in the old patio, where never a building stood before. Why the admittedly necessary buildings were not erected on the old foundation lines, or approximating them, as given in the official survey of the Mission, in the Architectural History of San Carlos Mission by Francis Rand Smith, does not appear. Artists, architects and all lovers of the Mission weep at the result.

In passing, it might avert confusion in the minds of visitors to make clear the fact that Serra rests in the old church, in the very tomb in which Palou laid him, in 1784. Had a removal of the bodies of the founders taken place, a record would necessarily appear in the archives, after the manner of the Franciscans to record all important events, not only once, but in triplicate. None has ever appeared.

As for the bronze "sarcophagus” the significant work of Jo Mora, California sculptor, it should be known, instead, as the Serra monument. Who would move Serra from his grave beside Crespi, when Junipero's last request was that he "be buried beside Father Juan?" The monument stands in the chapel outside the church, without an occupant.
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