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SLOJX Serra interview AN INTERVIEW WITH JUNIPERO SERRA Edited by Joseph A. Carotenuti Recently found documents included several lengthy interviews with Junipero Serra who was superior of the missions from 1769 to 1784. Editor comments are in italics. Thank you for speaking with me. I am humbled, but I am only one of many who have labored here for many years. Yes, but I think you have the best perspective given your duties and travel. First, why did you come? I am a Franciscan and simply followed my Superior’s decision. Being an apostolic missionary is of the highest calling and there were never any Franciscans in Alta California. I was most willing to go. I was grateful when Senor Galvez also approved. (Joseph Galvez was King Carlos III’s personal representative in New Spain (Mexico). What did you find? After the arid Baja, San Diego was a paradise with trees, water, fields of roses and many natives. (Serra arrived on July 1, 1769). Wasn’t travel difficult? All travel was difficult. The sea route was a disaster as scurvy took many lives. Padre Crespi came before me by land and suffered severely from hunger. (Crespi was a former student and chronicler of these early year.) For my part, the journey was not too tiring. But then again I was much younger. (Serra was born on August 13, 1713 in Petra on the Spanish island of Mallorca.) But you had a leg problem. Yes, when I arrived in the New World in 1749, I received some sort of insect bite which infected and has caused some discomfort. The Captain wanted me carried on a litter. I refused but asked the muleteer to mix a poultice. It worked fine. (A career soldier, Gaspar de Portola lead the expedition.) You are known for walking everywhere. I’m afraid that is a little exaggerated. Here in Alta, I cannot travel without an escort. The men will not wait for an old man to limp along the trail. (Nonetheless, estimates of lifelong walking are about 25,000 miles.) Let’s go back to that first camp. What happened? It was a beautiful spot on the bay…although a little cold. For so many, it became their grave as the scurvy spared few in one way or another. There were not enough sailors to sail to Monterey so Portola decided to continue on land. Since a rapid pace was planned, I was to stay behind. As it happened, everyone traveling north also became very ill. Worse of all, after about six months, he returned without finding Monterey. We now know he went too far north and discovered the bay named after our seraphic father St. Francis. Captain Portola says you told him he had been to Rome but failed to see the pope. I don’t remember saying that, but I hope he will forgive me. I couldn’t understand how he missed the bay. It was well documented since Vizcaino’s voyage. (Vizcaino named the bay of Monterey in 1602.) Padre Crespi simply thought the bay was swallowed up! What did you do in the meanwhile? It was difficult trying to find enough food and build shelters but I most remember the natives. At first, they were curious. They had never seen a horse or mule. We later realized they thought the men and animals were one creature! Even later, we realized they looked upon the beasts as food. They also were fascinated by cloth. The men went about as bare as the day their mothers brought them into the world. The women wore a skirt of reeds. We were shocked but being shocked was small price to bring these souls to heaven. After Portola left, we dedicated the first mission, but it did little good at first. (Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded on July 16.) San Diego was always a difficult establishment. Yes, I regret there were no baptisms while I was there. How did you communicate? In those days, it was all by signs as our Baja natives spoke a different tongue. Of all the adversities, language was one of the most trying. It still is as different tribes have different dialects. Didn’t matters become worse? Indeed they did! From being curious, the gentiles became bold and took whatever they wanted. There was little we could do to stop them. (Besides Serra, Padres Viscaino and Parron and 8 soldiers remained in camp.) Didn’t they attack the camp? Yes, the attack. I thought it was the Day of Judgment for us all, and my poor Juan was a casualty. Juan? He was a youth who served us. With an arrow through his neck, he died in my arms . The hut was a sea of blood. Unfortunately, an attack years later was even worse. How did it end? The men used their weapons and the attackers left. Besides Juan, Viscaino was wounded but recovered. (The soldiers never told Serra of native casualties.) So when Portola returned, the expedition was in a desperate condition. It was very discouraging. No baptisms, no Monterey, few supplies and death a frequent visitor. Portola decided to return to Mexico City, but we were saved by a miracle. What miracle? I would like to tell you, but I must beg your forgiveness as vespers are starting shortly.