Spanish Missions in Baja California
Baja California is a very old land, whose story deeps in ancient roots. It is closely linked to the colonization, mostly carried on by the Missionaries- Jesuits, Franciscans and then Dominicans.
It is a story of resistance and determination against the indigenous peoples of the Baja (Cochimi, Guaycura and Pericu ‘) and, like all colonization, it has its dark side.
The Colonization Of Baja California
In January 1633, the Spanish government sent three ships and 200 men on an expedition to Baja California, led by the Sinaloa Governor, Isidro de Atondo y Antillon,l and accompanied by Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit priest.
The ships landed in a place that would eventually become La Paz.
The first settlement in La Paz was soon abandoned due to the local population, which proved hostile and not very pleased with this colonization.
They tried again, this time near Loreto, but even this attempt failed.
Kino and Atondo y Antillon then returned to the mainland, where the former went on to establish several missions in the northwest.
The History of Jesuit Missions In Baja California
Only in 1695 one Juan Maria Salvatierra, another Jesuit priest, finally succeeded in establishing a permanent Spanish settlement in Loreto.
The Nuestra Señora de Loreto mission soon became the religious and administrative capital of the entire peninsula.
From here, other Jesuits left to preach and work all around the entire area, founding a total of 23 missions in the following 70 years.
Along with religion, palm groves and the cultivation of fruit, the Jesuits brought some diseases to which the natives of Baja California had never been exposed.
In 1767, in fact, epidemics of smallpox, plague, typhus, measles and even venereal diseases decimated the population.
Out of an initial population of about 48,000 individuals, only 8,000 survived.
The Intervention of the Spanish Government and the Arrival of the Franciscans
While population decline threatened the existence and purpose of the missions itself, it was the Spanish government that put an end to the Jesuit efforts.
It was said that Jesuit priests had accumulated a fortune on the peninsula and were becoming very powerful.
When power returned directly to Spain, King Charles III expelled the clergymen from the peninsula under the threat of arms and brought them back to Spain.
Then came the Franciscans, under Don Junipero Serra’s direct authority.
They either shut down or consolidated several existing missions and founded a new one, San Fernando Velicata.
Father Serra received new appointments from the Spanish government and, together with Gaspar de Portola, went North to establish new missions in Alta California.
This effort led to 21 missions in Baja and Alta California, as well as Junipero Serra’s beatification.
Then in 1772 it was the Dominicans’ turn, establishing nine new missions in the Northern part of Baja California over the next thirty years.
They also took over the missions previously founded by the Jesuits.
The Revolt of the Mexican People
Finally, in 1810, Mexican folks rose up to put an end to the Spanish rule, outnumbering the days of the missions’ government of the territory.
Mexico gained independence in 1821. In 1832, after Baja became federal territory, the governor turned the missions into simple parish churches, de facto putting an end to the work of missionaries and to he government of the peninsula by Catholic clergymen.