This is the third location of what was also called the Aranama Mission or Mission La Bahia, established in 1722 in Goliad, Texas. Previous missions were at Matagorda and Lavaca Bay then named La Bahía del Espíritu Santo (The Bay of the Holy Spirit), on the south west coast of Texas on the Gulf. On our involuntary vacation trip, we visited the town of Goliad first and then went to see the Mission itself, a short distance away on the banks of the San Antonio River.
The intention of the third location was to settle in a place that the native people, the Aranama, would be willing to stay and work, as well as establish territory to defeat the French, in particular. At its peak there were 40,000 head of cattle at the Mission making it the largest ranch in the area and run by the Franciscan order. I often wonder what the indigenous people thought – did Missions make their lives easier or was it just stolen land? They would have offered protection against some of the more warlike Tribes and a regular supply of food albeit with forced conversion to Catholicism.
One of my Irish cousins is a Missionary nun. For many years she worked in Africa. When she was older they moved her to a poverty stricken housing estate in Glasgow, Scotland. I was curious as to how she adapted but she loved it! Most people who meet me make assumptions based on my Scottish accent and seem to think I lived a fabulous life (in a castle?). Many people my age immigrated from Scotland to other countries to achieve a better life.
The building itself fell into disrepair over the years and was reconstructed as part of the New Deal in the 1930’s. From visiting other Missions in Mexico and California, it seems authentic to me. I was enchanted by the simplicity of the church and the pastoral lands surrounding it.
Mission Nuestra Senora del Espiritu Santo de Zuniga is a bit of a mouthful, as was my Spanish given name – Katherine Louise Dellinger de Ortega. My ancestors settled in Spanish Missions from central Mexico up to San Francisco. When I was in McAllen, the Mexican American receptionist commented on my Scottish accent and I said, “You won’t believe what my maiden name was!” After the reveal she said, “Well, that is a brown name!” I was so happy that she recognized my Mestizo heritage despite my Caucasian appearance – few people do.
Side door of the Immaculate Conception Church, Old Town, San Diego
Outside the door
“It was here in Old Town that Saint Junípero Serra celebrated his First Holy Mass in California on July 2, 1769, near the site of the present Immaculate Conception Church, and it was on the hill overlooking Old Town that he planted the cross which marked the site of the Mission and the Presidio.” This is a direct quote from the website of the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Old Town, San Diego. Given that my ancestors were buried in El Campo cemetery, a block away, I knew that they had sat in the current or previous church. My senses tingle when I can reconnect with the past.
Exterior of Immaculate Conception Church
Intricate Spanish detailing on the front door
I was curious about this American saint with the strange name. He was born in Majorca, one of the Balearic Islands, to the east of the Spanish Mainland. When I was a toddler my crazy mum and dad took me to live on one the smaller islands, Formentera. It didn’t work out… If you click on this link, Saint Junipero Serra, you can access an Encyclopedia Brittanica article about him.
There is some debate about whether he really helped the native people of California and that is the reason why he was canonized in 2015. Missionaries often think they are doing God’s work when they might be erasing a culture or set of beliefs. My personal belief is that you can volunteer or work in the third world without a specific faith or any but I wouldn’t want to belittle the good work that many missions do.
El Campo Cemetery had a broad mixture of names – Irish, English and Spanish mostly. Many had intermarried like my family. The stained glass in the Immaculate Conception Church had been donated by various families and it represented this broad range of original nationalities.
It was a lovely little church enhanced by the perfect sunny day. When I was looking for information about the church, I was amused by reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor. Who would dare give less than a 5 star rating???
I really need to finish my Tampa blogs but I thought I would amuse you with this tale. The Irishman in question, let’s call him Patrick, worked for my husband about 15 or more years ago. We met for the first time at a company function. Teddy was sitting at one side of me and introduced me to Patrick, who was quite the flirt. We exchanged funny stories about Ireland and I think he was quite enchanted by an Irish/Hispanic lady. I choked on my vodka and coke when he said, seductively and in Teddy’s earshot, “I shouldn’t sit so close to you because I am so fertile”. I fell off my seat laughing at his daring and because he didn’t know that I couldn’t have children because of infertility. Teddy looked a little shocked but started laughing too.
My favorite Patrick story (apart from the one above) is about the town he came from in County Galway. To set the scene, it had become a tourist and artist haven because it’s natural beauty. Many artists, from all around Europe and America, had moved there. Despite the fact that Ireland is a Catholic country, various missionaries had been trying to wedge a niche in the congregation. I doubt that many of them were successful as even the Catholic Church is treated with both reverence and skepticism in Ireland. But still they tried…
On this occasion, Jehovah’s Witnesses had gone to one little cottage in the town. An older woman opened the door to two smart young men. Their opening gambit was, “Do you know Jesus?” To their astonishment, the lady said (remember this is an Irish accent), “Surely, yes. If you just go to the top of the hill his cottage is on the right”. Unbeknown to the shocked missionaries, a Spanish artist had moved into the town and was called, wait for it, JESUS! The local population had no idea that it is pronounced ‘Hayzuus’ in Espanol. Ah, I love that story. 😇
As most of you know, Teddy is a rather accomplished geologist. This means that he has to believe in evolution … even here in Texas. We have fossils and minerals all over the bloody house and if you let him, he will tell which eon they come from, blah, blah, blah. We lived for years in a very remote agricultural area in the North East of Scotland. Almost everyone was some type of Protestant, some of them weird sects. They even have dry fishing boats from the major ports to accommodate some of the restrictive religions. One cold night, the door bell rung and there were two Jehovah’s Witnesses. We were astonished to see them so far out – they may as well have been in darkest Africa. Teddy invited them in and started teaching them about evolution which directly opposed the teachings of their church. By the time he had the fossils out, you could see that the younger man was becoming convinced of Darwinism. The older one took control and they left rather hastily. As soon as they did we howled with laughter and still wait patiently in Texas for some poor soul to come by the house of Satan. 😈 ☘