Mission San Antonio

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Mission San Antonio de Padua (Saint Anthony)

A brief history

The Mission San Antonio de Padua is the 3rd mission founded in California. It was founded on July 14th, 1771 by Friar Junipero Serra. Named for the great saint of Italy, San Antonio (St. Anthony), who was born of a noble family in Lison, Portugal, in 1995(?). In 1221, San Antonio became a Friar Minor, leaving the Augustinian canons regular in order to do so. Ill health prevented him from becoming a missionary but he showed brilliance as a scholar and preacher. His intense devotion to the child Jesus is invariably depicted in artistic works of his life. Death came to San Antonio in 1231 and he was canonized in 1232. He was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1946 by Pope Pius XII. His feast day is June 13.

Originally another mission, San Buenaventura was officially designated the third mission founded, but because of unsettled conditions in the area where it was due to be established, its founding was delayed, and San Antonio took it place as the next mission to follow the first two.

Father Serra wasted no time in establishing this mission, having just moved to the Monterey Mission to Carmel, he set out with two padres, some sailors and neophytes to found on e at the spot in Santa Lucia Mountains that had caught Governor Portola’s eye when he passed through two years earlier. A pleasant location with live oaks, alders, and willows, which where called Los Robles (the oaks), and they pitched camp next to the stream that Father Serra christened Rio de San Antonio.

Father Serra was so excited to start this mission that before the mules train had even been unburdened he hung a bell from a stout oak and he rang it shouting, “Oh ye gentiles! Come, come to the holy church!” His company reminded him that there was no church or natives in sight. Several days later, a large corss was raised and blessed. That very day, the first natives arrived and treated to gifts by Father Serra, they kept coming.

Father Beunaventura Sitjar was one of the two padres left in charge when Father Serra departed 15 days later, and he remained there for the next 37 years. He was the guiding hand for the many improvements. He created aqueducts to the mission grounds and they in turn turned a grist-mill, a mill-race, a fountain and even a bathing pool. Much of the original water system is still visible to this day. Including the original retaining wall of the reservoir. Father Sitjar also created a 400 page vocabulary of the Mutsun language, spoken by the natives of the San Antonio valley, through these books they were able to prepare catechisms in the native language.

Upon secularization in 1834, the natives departed after being mistreated. The returned to the mountains and the mission was abandoned for the next 46 years. Being so remote from the routes of travel, the buildings were plundered of all usable construction materials.

In 1903, Joseph R. Knowland of the California Historic Landmarks League started restoration and after extreme difficulties they completed restoration in 1907. It was called “the largest and most picturesque of the remaining missions of Northern California”. Restoration was difficult because of heavy rains in 1904-05 washing out the earlier work, an earthquake in 1906, that topple the previous years work and in 1907 the lumber could not be delivered due to the muddy roads. In 1948, the Hearst Foundation and the Franciscans of California stripped the buildings to the ground, all but the church, and painstakingly rebuilt them from scratch. The existing structures were reinforced with steel and concrete though old materials and methods were used when possible. The current mission is an accurate replica of the 1813 original with parts reserved for use by the Franciscans, with the rest of the grounds open to the general public.

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