Mission Santa Cruz

Mission Santa Cruz
Fritz Liess/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
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    Mission Santa Cruz

    Mission Santa Cruz was the twelfth one built in California, founded September 25, 1791, by Father Fermin Lasuen. The name Mission Santa Cruz means Holy Cross Mission.

    Interesting Facts about Mission Santa Cruz

    Mission Santa Cruz was known as the "hard luck mission." Today, it has the only remaining example of Indian housing in California.

    Where Is Mission Santa Cruz Located?

    The Mission Santa Cruz church is near 126 High Street (which is the address of the modern church nearby). You can get the address, hours, and directions at the  Mission Santa Cruz Website.

    Near the old mission church is the Mission Santa Cruz Historic Park at 144 School Street.They have the only surviving Indian neophyte quarters in the state of California. You can get information about visiting it at the  State Park Website.

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    Mission Santa Cruz Interior

    Interior Front of Mission Santa Cruz
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    The mission church people visit today is a reproduction, about half the size of the original. 

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    Mission Santa Cruz Back and Choir Loft

    Interior Back and Choir Loft of Mission Santa Cruz
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    The choir loft in the mission church is in the back, which is typical for the time period. 

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    Mission Santa Cruz Original Buildings

    Buildings at Mission Santa Cruz State Historic Park
    Ed Bierman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    This is the only building still left standing from the original Mission Santa Cruz, now located in the state historic park. Shortly after the mission closed, it became part of a private residence and was covered over with a roof, which saved the mud-based adobe brick from melting away in the rain.

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    Mission Santa Cruz Indian Sleeping Area

    Indian Sleeping Area at Mission Santa Cruz
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    This bed is part of the only surviving example of Indian living quarters from California's mission era.

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    Mission Santa Cruz Indian Quarters

    Indian Quarters at Mission Santa Cruz
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    This gives an idea of how an Indian family might have lived at a Spanish mission in California.

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    History of the Santa Cruz Mission and Branciforte: 1769-1799

    In 1774, Father Palou chose a mission site near a river flowing into the ocean. On August 28, 1791, Father Fermin Lasuen raised a cross where Santa Cruz Mission would be built.

    On September 25 of that year, Fathers Salazar and Lopez held the founding celebration.

    Early Years of Santa Cruz Mission History

    Older missions sent gifts to start the new one. Buildings were constructed, and the Indian population grew. Within three months, there were 87 neophytes.

    Santa Cruz Mission did well in its first few years. After floods, the Fathers moved uphill to a permanent location, and more Indians came.

    In 1796, Santa Cruz Mission produced 1,200 bushels of grain, 600 bushels of corn and 6 bushels of beans. They planted vineyards and raised cattle and sheep. Their property extended from Ano Nuevo south to the Pajaro River. Native workers made cloth, leather, adobe bricks and roof tiles, and worked as blacksmiths.

    Ohlone Indians came to Santa Cruz Mission to work and go to church, but many of them still lived in their nearby villages. By 1796, there were 500 neophytes.

    Santa Cruz Mission History and Branciforte

    Because problems came up when missions were too close to settlers, the Franciscan fathers said there should be at least three miles between a mission and a town. At Santa Cruz, Governor Borica ignored them. In 1797, he started a pueblo (town) just across the river and named it Villa de Branciforte.

    Some people say Branciforte was California's first real estate development. Borica asked the Viceroy in Mexico to send colonists. He promised them clothing, farm tools and furniture, a neat, white house, $116 annually for two years and $66 annually for the next three years after that.

    The community was laid out in a square, with a farming area divided into units for each settler. Borica wanted Branciforte to be like Latin America, where the races mixed successfully and houses were set aside for Indian chiefs. The plan worked in Mexico but was doomed to fail in California.

    The settlers who came were criminals who didn't want to run farms. They stole things and tried to pay the Indians to leave the mission. Borica's assistant wrote a letter saying if the settlers were a few million miles away, it would be good for the area.

    Neophytes started leaving Santa Cruz Mission. The population went from 500 in 1796 to 300 two years later. Father Lasuen complained, but the Governor just said if there were fewer Indians, then Santa Cruz Mission needed less land.

    In 1799, a rainstorm damaged the church, and it had to be rebuilt.

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    History of the Santa Cruz Mission: 1800 to the Present Day

    Mission Santa Cruz Historic Plaque
    Ed Bierman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Santa Cruz Mission History 1800-1820

    The natives had no resistance to European diseases like measles, scarlet fever, and the flu. The priests tried to read medical books and help them when they got sick, but they had little success. Thousands of Indians died, and others ran away.

    Indians also ran way because of sickness but also because of strict rules and harsh punishment. They were beaten for working too slowly or bringing dirty blankets to church. When they ran away, they were punished for that, too.

    Some priests were especially cruel. In 1812, Father Andres Quintana had two natives beaten with a wire-tipped whip. Because of the cruelty, angry Indians kidnapped Father Quintana and killed him, a case that prompted California's first autopsy.

    In 1818, a pirate named Hippolyte de Bouchard attacked the Monterey Presidio south of Santa Cruz. The Fathers and Indians went inland to the mission at Soleded. Father Olbes asked the settlers to pack up their belongings for them, but he should have know better. After the pirates had taken what they wanted, the settlers stole the rest. Father Olbes was so upset that he wanted to abandon the place, but Father Lasuen wouldn't let him.

    Santa Cruz Mission History in the 1820s-1830s

    The native population remained small, and the Branciforte settlers kept causing trouble. Records from 1831 say the mission owned thousands of cattle and sheep and produced hides and tallow, but it never returned to its former prosperity. By 1831, only about 300 neophytes were left.


    Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, but it couldn't afford to keep the missions running. In 1834, they decided to close them and sell the land. Mission Santa Cruz was one of the first to be secularized. The Mexicans offered the land to the natives, but they either didn't want it or couldn't pay for it. The land was then divided and sold to Mexican citizens. By 1845, of the 400 people at Santa Cruz, only 100 were Indians.

    In the next few years, the church buildings fell apart. An earthquake in 1840 toppled the bell tower and another earthquake in 1857 destroyed the church. People carried roof beams and tiles away for other uses, and no trace of the original church remained. The 35 adobe structures on the hill became part of the town.

    In 1863, Abraham Lincoln returned the lands to the Catholic church, but there was little left of Mission Santa Cruz. What little that remained was put up for sale, but no one would buy it. In 1889 a white- painted, Gothic-style brick church was built on the mission's site.

    Santa Cruz Mission History in the 20th Century

    In 1930, a wealthy family started to build a full-sized replica near the original site, but they lost money in the stock market crash and could only build something half the size of the original.

    The only original building left was originally used for Indian housing, built in 1824.

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    Mission Santa Cruz Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

    The first permanent church at Santa Cruz was built in 1793-1794.

    It was 112 feet long, 29 feet wide and 25 feet high, with walls five feet thick. The first roof was thatched, but a tile roof was added in 1811. It was the main mission church for 65 years. Other buildings were constructed around a square, including a weaving room and granary, and a grain mill was built in 1796.

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    Mission Santa Cruz Layout

    Layout of Mission Santa Cruz
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    If you compare this picture with what's there today, the original mission was located where the big, modern church is now. The row of Indian quarters at the state historic park is near the lower left of this picture.

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    Mission Santa Cruz Cattle Brand

    Cattle Brand of Mission Santa Cruz
    Betsy Malloy Photography

    The Mission Santa Cruz picture above shows its cattle brand. It was drawn from samples on display at Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission San Antonio. It's one of several mission brands that include the letter "A" in various forms, but we have not been able to find out its origin.