Missionary Art & History: Mission Nuestra Señora de los Dolores o Chillá (1721-1768)

Clavijero and other historians indicate that this mission was endowed by the Pious Fund of the Californias and founded in August of 1721 by Father Clemente Guillén. It was located between Loreto and La Paz in land of the Uchitíes and on the beach of Apaté. However, on September 7, 1741 the mission was moved to The Passion, a place in the mountains originally called Tagnuetía, more than 18 miles to the west of the coast.

Father Francisco Maria Píccolo, in his letter “Memoir regarding the condition of the missions” dated February 10, 1702, differs with the year of the mission’s establishment. His letter expresses:

Since our second discoveries, we have divided the entire country into four missions. The first is Conchó, or Our Lady of Loreto. The second is Biaundó, or San Francisco Javier. The third, is the Yodivineggé, or Our Lady of Dolores. The fourth, which is not as well established and operated as the other three, is that of San Juan Londó. Each mission comprises many rancherías … Regarding the mission of Our Lady of Dolores, it only includes Unebbé to the north, Niumqui, or San Jose, and Yodivineggé, or Our Lady of the Dolores, provides names for all the missions.

Niumqui and Yodivineggé are two very populated settlements, close to each other. The Brotherhood of the Congregation of Our Society of St. Peter and St. Paul, formed in Mexico City under the title of “Los Dolores de la Santa Virgen,” and composed of the principal nobility of that great city, has founded this mission and shown, on all occasions, a great fervor for the conversion of these poor Gentiles.

Perhaps at the moment Piccolo wrote his report, religious services were already in place and he was eager to give more importance to the work that was carried out by calling the place a mission. However, it was Guillen who planted the mission properly. The same mission that years later gave shelter and protection to the missionaries and neophytes threatened by the rebellion of the native Pericues. In 1740, the mission was only a Visit to San Luis Gonzaga, and by orders of Galvez ceased to function in 1768. The few remaining Indians moved to Todos Santos and the ornaments were sent to Alta California.

Jesuits – Society of Jesus

The main objective of the Jesuit religious missions was to evangelize and create a society with the benefits and qualities of European Christian society, but absent the earthly vices and evils. For some scholars, the missions founded by the Jesuits on the Baja California peninsula were some of the most remarkable utopias in history.

Through alliances and contributions, the Jesuits came from the center of New Spain to the peninsula and established the first mission in 1697. To achieve this, they adapted to the culture of the Cochimies, Pericues and Guaycuras Indians and soon learned their languages. They taught them administrative, economic and cultural structure that operated in a community system and where the natives were educated in the Christian faith.

In the middle of the 17th Century, the Jesuits faced opposition from some sectors of the Catholic Church that did not agree with their methods of evangelization. The Jesuits were suspected of trying to create an independent empire. This argument was used in a defamatory campaign that resulted in the expulsion of the Jesuit missionaries of America in 1759.

In Baja California, the legacy of the Jesuits has endured with buildings that still stand as a testament to the perseverance of those who oversaw their construction between desert and sea.

Pious Fund of the Californias

The Pious Fund of the Californias originated in 1696 with voluntary donations made by individuals and religious corporations in Mexico to members of the Society of Jesus. The funds enabled the missionaries to spread the Catholic faith in the area then known as California.

In 1691, Father Juan Maria de Salvatierra was the Visitor in charge. He traveled through the territories worked by Father Kino. As a result, he came to learn of the situation of the Californian Indians and to worry greatly about it. Of course, they made a mutual promise not to rest until the problem was solved. The two of them set out to Christianize California.

Salvatierra enthusiastically began working to obtain permission and elements for the effort. However, it was not until late 1696 that he was called from Guadalajara to Mexico by the provincial government and told he had finally been given the necessary license to enter California. However, given the circumstances at the time, he could not count on any help from the royal coffers and that neither the viceroy nor the ministers were willing to provide funds. Salvatierra had to obtain the means necessary for the transportation, subsistence and safety of the missionaries on his own.

After authorization, Father Juan Maria was commanded to do one thing, seek the necessary funds. Among the many rich and pious people who had previously offered him help, he was able to establish the Pious Fund of the Californias.

Alonso Davalos, Count of Miravalle, and D. Mateo Fernandez de la Cruz, Marquis of Buenavista, each gave one thousand pesos in cash. Three thousand pesos were collected in cash from other contributors and ten thousand in pledges. Pedro Gil de la Sierpe, Treasurer of Acapulco, offered a galleon for the trip and another vessel for the transport of food.

Juan Maria Salvatierra and Juan de Ugarte, who was assigned as companion in this enterprise, collected another nine thousand pesos, which some pious men offered for the first five years at the cost of not a few embarrassments and slights. The illustrious congregation of the Dolores, founded at the Colegio de Mexico a few years earlier through the diligence of the founder and first prefect, Father Vidal, gave ten thousand pesos to cover the expenses of one missionary and later, another twenty thousand pesos for two more missionaries. Don Juan Caballero and the Ocio priest of Querétaro, offered to pay Father Salvatierra for as every bill that came from California and were signed by his hand.

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