The Missions: Number 8

Santa Clara de Asis, number eight of the Franciscan missions in California, was founded by Father Tomas de la Peña on January 12, 1777.  He named it for a woman: St. Clare of Assisi, the first Abbess of San Damiano and co-founder of the Order of Poor Ladies, also known as the Poor Clares order of nuns. A few days later, after another padre arrived with supplies and some religious articles donated by churches in Mexico, the two priests began the work of building. A year later the mission had a church 100 feet long, corrals for horses and cattle, a bridge across the river, and a priest’s residence.  In early summer a large contingent of colonists from Mexico settled in the area, alarming the padres because their neophytes (Indians who had converted to the faith) were being greatly influenced by the new “outsiders.” The priest’s efforts to keep them separated resulted in the creation of Santa Clara (the mission) and nearby San Jose (the town). Mission Santa Clara was among the largest in the chain with 5,000 cattle, 12,000 sheep, and acres of fruit orchards, olive trees, and vineyards.  A leader in the number of baptisms, it also led in the number of deaths, caused by a measles epidemic among the Indians in 1777.  When  the Guadalupe River flooded in 1779, the  padres set up a temporary church in a safer location. Two years later they chose another site, blessed by Father Serra himself, who came to lay the cornerstone. It was finished in 1784. Disaster struck in 1818: an earthquake damaged the buildings, necessitating yet another temporary site. Mission Santa Clara moved to its final site in 1822. The mission was secularized in 1836, but remained a parish church into the 1840s. After the Gold Rush, the property was transferred to the Jesuits, who founded Santa Clara University. The only portion remaining of the original mission is a section of garden wall, but the university chapel, built in 1929, was designed as a reproduction; and the bell tower holds the two original bells sent to the mission from Spain.



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