“Junipero Serra founded the California mission system.
His statues are all over California.
He has streets named after him. His image is on prayer cards
and hundreds of shirts sold in the gift shop at the El Fornio Historical Society
—that should be enough.

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read the part of Hank Peabody

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Hank Comes to Grips with Serra

from The Reeducation of a Turd Peddler
by John Henry Peabody

“The destruction of a way of life in a foreign land is the curriculum vitae for canonization? Self-flaggelation and denial of corporal pleasure by cutting and burning of one’s own flesh with blade and wax is a prerequisite to sainthood?
I’m going to quote Robert Plant again, `I don’t th’ANK so!”

— Hank Peabody
Director & Curator
The El Fornio Historical Society

I FINALLY BEGAN to realize that any romantic obsession with Serra and the Missions was equivalent to a kind of life cheating. Equating Junipero Serra and the love of his kow-towing neophytes to sainthood was like kicking your dog in the teeth or shitting in the well water.
  The same people who wanted to rebuild the mission were the same ones who wanted to sell mission brand salsa and "personalized sombreros." If they had it their way, Janet and I would be dipping chips at the Mission El Fornio Grand Opening™ into melted Velveeta whilst wearing straw hats with “Janet” and “Hank” embroidered on them . . . All the while the mariachi band would be noodling away in the background as we wondered how they pulled the event off without a liquor license. I mean if you’re going to try and bullshit me, at least do it with a selection of tequilas.
  One has to choose their protest. The notion of being politically correct about Serra’s role as one of the false heroes of California history seemed as quaint to me as casting him as an epic saint. That kind of qualifies as a Mexican Stand Off, doesn’t it?
  Rebuild the mission. Don’t rebuild the mission. On any hot August afternoon, we’d all like our wife to be able to peruse the gift shop in her white summer dress. The question is, Where do we want her to be doing the perusing? (And how do you get a wife?)
  Hell, I had to find a job in a career path that was hit or miss to begin with. Even Janet didn’t realized how close, just a year or two earlier, I came to dressing up like one of Snow White’s elves just to secure a pay check (SEE: Goleta Train Museum, my application there).
  Weren’t there enough local obsessives who wanted to flay the chaste Mallorcan as they ran around with placards and bull horns, calling him out for being mean to the Indians?
  Don’t lean on me. I had rent to pay, a PG&E bill, car insurance, two piles of laundry and about forty Central Coast coprolites from the Middle Era to classify, diagram and hydrate You’d think they could fill the ranks of the protestant with one more Birkenstocker who cared more than me?
  You’d think.
  I’m fully aware that there will always be mythological seepage when discussing place—I took that seminar in grad school. The deal was to figure out where to stand and poke your finger into the narrative dyke—as it were. So here’s my finger. I’m holding it out. And this is where I’m poking it.

* * *

Mission Carmel, Monterey, California, Pebble Beach, golf course, Cannery Row, John Steinbeck, big aquarium, deep bay, 17 mile drive, Asilomar, Julia Morgan, Mayor Clint Eastwood, John Denver’s plane out of gas, Rocky Mountain High going into the drink—this was the national shrine of Father Junipero Serra, born in Mallorca, founder of the California Missions and subject of the Catholic Church’s canonization process, pressed in a tin with olive oil, capers and white wine—a pinch of diatomaceous earth atop. And, oh, yeah, his ticker in a jar of formaldehyde bouncing around somewheres no one seemed to know.
  Founded in 1771, the mission saw Serra, his cohorts and soldiers, living like Robinson Caruso in thatched huts, holes dug in the ground and covered with spare ceiling, attempting to plant crops as if they were in Europe. Like Vikings in Greenland, they were merely beginning to set the groundwork for their own starvation as the Natives thrived.

Jean Francois de La Perouse visits Mission Carmel in 1796. Perouse was Serra and company's first European visitor. Of his time at the mission settlement, Perouse wrote, "Sins which are left in Europe to Divine justice are here punished by irons and stocks

  When the Jacques Cousteau of his time—the first European visitor to the mission—Jean Francois de La Perouse, came to Monterey on September 14, 1796 aboard the ships L’Astrolabe and La Boussole, he observed that the research and development project that was the Spanish empire’s California mission system was comprised of one padre to nine soldiers, making a team of two padres and eighteen soldiers per mission.
  It was a bad situation all around. Perouse commented that what was fashioned at the new Spanish settlements was not a shot at the recreation of a European town, rather an attempt to make the average person act like they were a committed and chaste disciple of the monastery.
  “Sins which are left in Europe to Divine justice,” Perouse wrote, “are here punished by irons and stocks.”
  And to what material end, aside from the spiritual discipline the padres were exacting, did they strive?
  Upon initial contact with the Europeans, the locals were flush with game and fish and floral gastronomy. Captain George Vancouver, the explorer from Britain, made mention six years after Le Perouse’ visit that the settlement did not “indicate the most remote connection with any European or civilized nation.” San Francisco’s settlement was “enclosed by a mud mall and resembling a pound for cattle.” The commandante’s quarters in San Francisco were equally “without being boarded, paved, or even reduced to an even surface: the roof was covered with flags and rushes; the furniture consisted of a very sparing assortment of the meanest kind.” The commandante’s wife received them “seated crosslegged on a mat.”
  They had turned into literal hippies without comparable goals, examples of a supposed dominant civilization living like twenty-year olds in a college town without plumbing, treating longstanding, pretty well fed and accomplished adults around them like out-of-line pets.
  Kinda Taliban.
  After San Francisco, Vancouver felt the same of his visit to Monterey—eight years after Serra’s death, still not a red tiled roof, bottle of Zinfandel or plate of Nachos to be found. They lived in “miserable mud huts” with the same “lonely uninteresting appearance” as the missions to the north.
  And this is the qualification to be a saint? This work by Serra? This set-up? The destruction of a way of life in a foreign land is the curriculum vitae for canonization? Self-flaggelation and denial of corporal pleasure by cutting and burning of one’s own flesh with blade and wax is a prerequisite to sainthood?   Divide or multiply these actions with the three necessary and mysterious miracles required of a candidate saint and it is hard for one to move forward in support.
  I need a tequila but will hold off—thanks for asking.
  Junipero Serra founded the California mission system. His statues are all over California. He has streets named after him. His image is on prayer cards and hundreds of shirts sold in the gift shop at the El Fornio Historical Society—that should be enough. An earned run average like that merits a substantial amount of introductory sentences and index entries.
  But sainthood calls into question the whole mojo of sainthood to begin with.
When Serra’s lifelong friend Father Juan Crespi died on January 1, 1782, he was interred beneath the sanctuary floor of Mission Carmel (although the stone church wasn’t even begun until 1793, under the direction of Father Fermin Lasuen, there is some suggestion that Crespi’s body was kept in a tossed water heater box in the woods until the church was completed.).
  Serra passed in 1784 and then Lasuen in 1803. The lot of them are set side by side—Moe, Larry, Curly-style—beneath the sanctuary floor at the mission.
  On his road to sainthood, Father Serra has been dug up three times. In 1856, he was exhumed for confirmation of identity. In 1882, the trio were undug again, this time with a cadre of St. Patrick’s school cadets brought down from San Francisco.   An excellent Mathew Bradyesque black and white photo of the event shows a well-plumed drum major, two ladies in their finery, an Indian grave digger (a Fornay agent, by the way), a man looking like Karl Marx in the back row to the right, dozens of soldiers, and the priest of the day standing above the open tombs looking suspiciously like Edgar Allen Poe. (The casual to serious scholar can make note of these details by obtaining a copy of the photograph below).

In 1882, Serra, Crespi and Lasuen were unburied again.

  When the modern canonization process was begun, the old padre was unburied again in 1943. A tribunal of church authorities were on premise, in 1950, when Dr. Herbert E. Bolton himself gave testimony to Serra’s role in California’s history.
Afterward, Bolton shook hands with the officials and gave each a gift of a Citizens Federal Bank ashtray commemorating Drake’s Plate of Brass. (Fifty years later, one of the ashtrays would be bought by me at an antique stall during “Old Spanish Days” festival).

  Pope John Paul II declared Father Serra “venerable” in 1985, which meant he was “lovable,” one step closer to being “huggable,” which finally leads to “cuddily.”
  In 1987, John Paul himself visited the mission. Showing up with a small garden shovel and sun hat, the Pope needed authorities at Carmel to explain that Father Serra’s body had already been dug up. His Holy Father was quoted as saying, “Oh, dang” as his assistant took the little shovel from his hand.
  Finally, in 1988, Serra was “beatified,” which put him right up there with Jack Keroauc and Allen Ginsburg.
  Across the meadow, out behind the good father’s mission, we could all hear the ghostly pant of the occasional neo-phyte as he knelt, was flogged and made example of. In this way, the missionization of Alta California—and Father Junipero Serra’s master plan—carried on without a hitch.
  Sort of.


Copyright © 2010, The El Fornio Historical Society
          Contact John Graham at john@elfornio.com