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The Mission Santa Clara de Asis is the 8th mission founded in California. It was founded on January 12, 1777 by Friar Junipero Serra. Named for Saint Claire of Assisi, the founder of the order of Poor Clares.
Santa Clara was the second of the San Francisco missions that were placed per the Viceroy’s order that two settlements were to be near the great port to prevent enemy occupation or attack. The first, Mission Dolores, had been established in 1776 and everyone was ready for the second mission to be founded, but authorization was delayed due to native uprisings in San Luis Obispo.
After two months of waiting, the approval arrived and parties from both San Francisco and Monterey set out for the new site. This site was about forty miles southeast of Mission Dolores, on the bank of a stream named Rio de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe by Juan Bautista de Anza.
On January 5, 1777, Lieutenant Moraga and Father Tomas de la Pena with soldiers and familes set out for the Guadalupe River. On January 12th they planted the cross and constructed an arbor for a use as a church. They then laid out the square with space for the church, dwellings, granaries and a guardhouse. Two weeks later Father Hose Murguia arrived with the church goods, tools and cattle. The buildings started soon after.
Unfortunately the natives came to conflict with the soldiers, after killing some of the soldiers mules, a detachment was send from San Francisco. Finding natives feasting on the mule meat, the soldiers attempted to capture them, the native resisted and three were killed and some of the leaders were captured. The prisoners were taken to Santa Clara and there flogged. The natives continued to steal from the mission. In May, an epidemic struck, killing many of the native children. As a result, more than fifty native children were baptized afterward.
Due to flooding the buildings had to be moved several times. In 1781, the cornerstone was laid for a new church, the third, as per designs of Father Murguia. Father Serra arrived and blessed the cross and the cornerstone. The church was called Father Murguia’s church because he put his very heart into it. But four days before Father Serra arrived to consecrate it, he died. Less than four months later, Father Serra also died.
In 1911, the cornerstone was found by accident when a gas line was being repaired. Found in the cornerstone were small crucifixes and Spanish coins which are now on display in the museum of the University of Santa Clara.
Santa Clara has two padres who were beloved by the people. Father Magin de Catala was a sincere and pious man. He loved the native children and they adored him back. He was known as The Prophet because he could foretell events, such as the coming of the Americans and the discovery of gold. His associate Father Jose Viader, was an immense man of physical stature and a warm heart. A story tells of a disgruntled native named Marcelo and two of his companions attacked the padre and he beat them down, but then he lectured them and forgave them, soon Marcelo was one of the padre’s best friends.
Santa Clara has problems with the Pueblo of San Jose that was founded the same year as Santa Clara and was close in location. The settler’s cattle frequently mixed with the missions and there were heated disputes of water rights to the Guadalupe River. Father Catala helped the situation when he built a four-mile Alameda linking the communities. Nearly two hundred natives planted three rows of black willows to border this road. Other trees replaced many of the willows over the years and the center row was cut down when the road was widened. But some of the ancient trees are still standing to this day.
In 1836, secularization took place and the natives were dispersed. After the American occupation, the land was partly returned to the Church, which gave them to the Jesuit Order for use as a college seat. In 1851 classes began and the college was chartered by the state four years later. This is now the University of Santa Clara.
Earthquakes and fires plagued the mission. Several mission churches were damaged and severe damage fell upon the three bells, two of which were given by the King of Spain in 1799. In 1926 a fire began in the restored tower. The students and faculty fought to save the church relics, but the church was consumed, one bell melted and the other cracked from the heat. But one bell, made in 1789 survived undamaged and it hands in the restored church that was rebuilt in 1929.
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