Tag Archives: monterey

Mission San Carlos Borromeo del rio Carmelo

At one time Mission San Carlos Borromeo, just outside Monterey California, was the capitol of the Spanish Empire in Alta California. Junipero’ Serra, the founder of the California mission system, and now a Saint, is buried in the chapel. Jose Antonio Romeu, the second Spanish Governor of all California is buried there too. Today it is beautiful and celebrated, but by 1863, the place was in ruins.

What happened?img_2267

The short answer is the end of slavery in Mexico.

When the missions were first established they technically “belonged” to the local inhabitants aka Indians. It was their land and their buildings, but the management was sort of leased to the Catholic priests for a period of time to help get things up and running. At least that is how it was drawn up on paper.img_2260

In reality, the way it worked out, was that the Spanish forced the local native inhabitants to build, and then work in, these palatial compounds.

They were indeed palatial.img_2281

When the lease on Mission Carmelo ran out, the Franciscans in charge simply kept control. There were no non-European authorities nearby to force them otherwise, and the native locals were already effectively slaves.

So the place stayed splendid.img_2310

Then, in 1821, Mexico won its own American revolution and kicked the Spaniards out. Soon after the new government issued a proclamation of emancipation (42 years before Lincoln), freeing the enslaved Indians, who then left the missions.img_2283

Without an unpaid workforce the missions couldn’t support themselves and they began to decline.img_2280

Then the Mexican government went a step further and confiscated the missions from the Catholic church and started selling off the surrounding lands and most of the fancy stuff inside got ransacked- or carried off by retreating friars.img_2284

As a side note, this same crack down on Mexican slavery caused a dust up in what became Texas, since the white Americans who recently moved there still wanted the right to keep other people as slaves.img_2290

But eventually California became America, Catholics, Indians, Mexicans, and all- and in 1931 real work got underway in restoring Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, or just the Carmelo Mission as most people know it, to its original glory.img_2311

They didn’t exactly tell that story when I visited. The pamphlets have bits and pieces, and the tour guides are happy to tell you about some artifacts, but mostly its just a church that hosts touring 4th graders.img_2269

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Bear Flag Republic and Manifest Destiny: Monterey

California, just like Texas, is kind of its own place. We don’t normally relate the two today, I blame the 60’s, but believe it or not both places have cowboys. Both places have also once been Spanish colonies, then Mexico, then their own country, and then a state. Oh yes, and there were plenty of people living in both places long before Spain showed up (though I wonder why anyone would have ever lived in North Texas or Barstow).img_1552

Californians are always trying to be innovators and ahead of the curve, in any way they can, so naturally they tried to imitate Texas.

As the capital of the Spanish state of Alta California, Monterey was the focal point of Anglo American capitalists and settlers.  Mexicans kicked out Spain in 1821 and then things got a little silly.

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Americans kept immigrating illegally to Mexican California and when they couldn’t get the support from the Mexican government, they decided they would just make the place America.

But first they declared independence. They raised a flag with a California Bear and one lone star… like the one in Texas. These Americans living in Mexico declared they were their own country of California… and then later that same year (1846) America went to war with Mexico and the folks with that bear flag said “just kidding independence. We would rather be America.”img_1529

So in Monterey, amid the nice little coffee shops and a remodeled Cannery Row, you can find an Independence Hall just like in Philadelphia. Remarkably like Philadelphia. feather quill pens and everything.img_1561

Then Texas struck oil and California struck gold, Hippies moved to San Francisco, and depending on who is president, both states talk about secession.  img_1556

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Royal Presidio Chapel, San Carlos Cathedral

Five months after some colonists tussled with England in the Boston Massacre, Spain set up permanent shop in California. A Catholic priest and the Spanish governor picked a spot right next to a Native American town called Tamo.img_2303Tamo isn’t there any more but the cathedral is. It stands tall as California’s oldest brick building. Within a year the priest moved his mission down closer to the bay where there were more native people to convert. There weren’t enough natives up on the hill where the Spanish were building the presidio that were willing to help. Go figure.img_1511The tour guides there today are more than helpful. Volunteers devoted to sharing a place full of meaning an beauty. The Cathedral is that for sure.img_2301There has been quite a bit of work to restore the original Spanish Capital of Alta California. The place burned down once after an incident with a salute cannon. I tried but failed to find out who was being saluted when the cannon committed arson. The tour guide claimed not to know. I bet that guy from the Da Vinci Code does.img_1519The cathedral is still being used, and has always been used, as a church. Long before Kennedy became America’s first Catholic president, even before America had a president, there were Catholics coming here on Sunday.img_1525

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