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Missions in Decline
 

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From 1769 to 1835, the Franciscan missions dominated Spanish and Mexican Alta California. The friars rigidly controlled the religion, education, sexuality, politics and labor of the native peoples who came into the mission either voluntarily or at the point of a musket or lance. On vast mission estates the native workers raised crops and pastured herds of cattle that not only fed the colony but also furnished its principal source of trade. The missions had the goal of transforming the indigenous peoples into practicing Roman Catholics and useful subjects of the Spanish Crown, but they were only partially successful. Overwork and diseases, against which they had no immunity, decimated the native population. Then everything changed. Mexico's independence from Spain weakened the Catholic Church, and, in 1833, the congress voted to secularize the missions. Over then next few years, the missions lost their extensive landholdings and entered into a period of prolonged decline. The priests and most of the native inhabitants left. Neighbors removed roof tiles and beams from the buildings, hastening their decay. By the turn of the twentieth century most of the missions were desolate ruins, or been modified far beyond their original appearance.
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United States Surveyor General's Map of Mission Santa Cruz, 1858.  Following secularization, Mission Santa Cruz suffered a series of misfortunes. Earthquakes and floods in 1840 and 1857 seriously damaged the church and adjacent buildings.  Subsequent looting of the structures for beams, stones and tiles completed the destruction.

United States Surveyor General's Map of Mission Santa Cruz, 1858. Following secularization, Mission Santa Cruz suffered a series of misfortunes. Earthquakes and floods in 1840 and 1857 seriously damaged the church and adjacent buildings. Subsequent looting of the structures for beams, stones and tiles completed the destruction.

A lithograph from the Pacific Railroad Survey shows Mission San Diego de Alcala in the mid 1850s.  Secularized twenty years earlier, the mission buildings already had begun deteriorating.

A lithograph from the Pacific Railroad Survey shows Mission San Diego de Alcala in the mid 1850s. Secularized twenty years earlier, the mission buildings already had begun deteriorating.

Prior to secularization, California's missions were centers of activity. The caption on the reverse of this nineteenth century reproduction of a painting of Mission San Carlos Borromeo by Oriana Day states that it depicts the mission in its most flourishing condition.

Prior to secularization, California's missions were centers of activity. The caption on the reverse of this nineteenth century reproduction of a painting of Mission San Carlos Borromeo by Oriana Day states that it depicts the mission in its most flourishing condition.

Prior to secularization, California's missions were centers of activity. The caption on the reverse of this nineteenth century reproduction of a painting of Mission San Carlos Borromeo by Oriana Day states that it depicts the mission in its most flourishing condition.



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