Jun?pero SerraSerra played a decisive role in the European settlement of the New World. He was born Miquel Jos? Serra in Petra on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca on November 24, 1713. Though not an assuming figure and plagued by ill health much of his adult life, he brought Christianity and Spanish culture to California. The first half of his life was spent in Mallorca; the second half was dedicated to developing missions and administering to native peoples in remote regions of New Spain (later Mexico) including Sierra Gorda, Baja California and Alta California (today the State of California).
Bright, earnest and deeply religious at an early age, he chose to become a Franciscan, adopting the name of Junipero after an ardent disciple of St. Francis of Assisi who founded the Franciscans. Serra was ordained a priest shortly before Christmas, 1737. He earned his doctorate in sacred theology at Lullian University in Mallorca's capital of Palma and in 1743 was named to the chair of Theology. Two of his students, Francisco Palou and Juan Crespi, became lifelong associates in Serra's missionary work.
Jun?pero Serra long dreamed of going to the New World as a missionary. In 1749 Fray Serra, now 36, began the treacherous journey across the sea to New Spain and for the next 19 years dedicated himself to missionary work in Mexico. Between 1750 and 1758 he revitalized five missions in the Sierra Gorda region. In 1767 the Franciscan were asked to take over the 13 missions of Baja California. Serra was appointed padre-president and while there founded Mision (sic) San Fernando Rey de Espa?a de Velicata. In 1768 Don Jos? de Galvez, the Visitador General of New Spain, was planning a land and sea expedition to settle Alta California, and Serra was selected to be founder and president of the Alta California Missions.
Establishing the California MissionsJoining the expedition led by Don Gaspar de Portol?, Serra arrived in San Diego in 1769 and established the first Alta California mission. In 1770 the parties set out for Monterey Bay where the central settlement of Alta California and the second mission was temporarily located. He moved the mission in 1771 to the Carmel River, six miles to the south, in order to benefit the natives and to take advantage of better water and agricultural conditions. The Carmel Mission (Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo) became the headquarters for the California Mission System and is now designated a National Historic Landmark. From here personnel and supplies were sent throughout Alta California, ultimately supporting 21 missions.
Between 1769 and 1782 Fray Serra founded the first nine missions in Alta California, San Diego de Alcal?, San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo, San Antonio de Padua, San Gabriel Arch?ngel, San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Francisco de As, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Clara de As and San Buenaventura. The remaining missions were founded under the guidance of Fray Ferm?n Francisco de Lasuen and his successors. By the end of 1783 the missions had attained a level of self-sufficiency that Serra had envisioned years earlier.
Fray Jun?pero Serra overcame political and physical adversity with his dedication and sustaining faith, and left as his legacy the foundation of Californian. This devoted and selfless missionary died at the Carmel Mission on August 28, 1784 at the age of 70. The natives mourned the loss of their beloved Fray Serra. His body rests under the Carmel Mission Basilica's main alter. Honoring him is a cenotaph in the Mora Chapel adjacent to the Basilica and this Serra Memorial Wall. A statue of the blessed Jun?pero Serra, on of the giants of California history, stands in Statuary Hall in our nation's Capitol Builbing.
A Lasting TributeThis wall was erected in 2011 as the centerpiece of the Carmel Mission Foundation's Tricentennial Capital Campaign to restore and preserve the historical buildings of the Carmel Mission. It is intended as a celebration of the 300th anniversary of Junipero Serra's birth in 1713, as well as a lasting tribute to those 300 donors whose generosity is helping make the Mission's restoration possible. Of the seven plaques on the wall, the upper two are narrative commemorations of Father Serra's life as his work. The five lower plagues recognize the campaign's major donors.
The bell, Ave Maria, is a fitting adjunct to the setting as its history parallels that of the Mission and symbolizes the Mission's historical resilience. Ave Maria was cast in Mexico City in 1807 and was installed at the Mission in 1820. When the Mission was secularized after 1834 the bell was removed by local Indians for safekeeping and ultimately secreted at St. Patrick's Church in Watsonville. Over time the bells whereabouts were lost but it was re-discovered and restored to the Mission in 1925, 105 years after its original installation. Ave Maria subsequently cracked through usage but a grant to the Foundation for the restoration of the bells allowed for an exact duplicate to be cast in Holland in 2010. The bell now hangs in Ave Maria's original setting on the South side of the bell tower where it is visible from the memorial wall.
Taken together, the wall, the life and history of Junipero Serra, the donor plaques and the old bell are intended as lasting reminders of the history and significance of the Carmel Mission and a caring public's commitment to maintain it into perpetuity.