Photos: Then and Now, the Spanish Missions.

Oct 2014
I thought I might see if a comparison of photos or drawings over the years may look interesting. I will be adding to this if the interest is there.

The 1708-1736 site of Mission San José de Comondú...





The 1720 mission of La Purísima...







Oct 2014
Yes, and all rebuilt 'modern' structures.

The locations with missions in Baja California survived as parish churches if newly arriving Mexican settlers replaced the native Indians (who died off or were absorbed through marriage with Spanish soldiers) at the church.

Many mission sites did not attract mainland Mexicans or those who arrived simply did not care to preserve the church building. Often they would use tiles and wood from the Spanish missions to construct their own homes and barns.

In the United States, historical societies preserved the ruined mission churches and rebuilt them, often with public support as well as private financing. The educational and cultural value was realized.

Of the 27 missions in Baja California, only a few are preserved, original construction, and they are marvelous to see in this harsh land. They attract visitors and that helps the economy. The majority of mission locations are in ruins or vanished for all time.

Two weeks ago, I visited one of the missions that is being allowed to vanish. It is the mission that operated the last of all the California missions, Santo Tomás (1791-1849).

March 8, 2017





Forum Staff
Mar 2008
On a mountain top in Costa Rica. yeah...I win!!
Interesting photos. They fill me with wistfulness and remind me of the time I spent as a novitiate. (many many years ago) Interesting stuff. Keep it coming.


Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
San Antonio, Tx
You would like my book...
Old missions

I am happy to share my trip photos and compare them to old photos.
They were all restored, but the churches were always parish churches and never ceased operations, even though some had fallen on fairly hard times and were deteriorating. Today they are all in very good shape like some of the California missions I have visited and together they form a World Heritage site.
Oct 2014
Most of the Alta California mission churches were in ruins during the years following the Mexican period (ending in 1848). Once California was flooded with Americans and things calmed after the civil war, it was realized that these missions and the El Camino Real mission road held historic value. Societies were established during the Victorian-era (early 1900s) to preserve the ruins and mark the old road route through California.

The same was not true in Mexican California (Baja California), so the ruined adobe missions that were not in populated areas as well as some of the remote stone missions simple weathered away or were exposed to the elements naturally or by vandalism and allowed to vanish.

Here is Mission Santo Domingo, about 175 miles south of San Diego, founded in 1775:








Here is an article I wrote on Mission Santo Domingo in 2013. It became the basis for a chapter in my 2016 book, Baja California Land of Missions.

By David Kier
David K's BAJA Adventures
Co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834

One year following the founding of their first mission (El Rosario), the Dominicans were ready to begin the second mission of their California service. Padre Manuel Garcia and Padre Miguel Hidalgo traveled twenty leagues (about 50 miles) north to a site where a large arroyo emerged from the mountains. This was on or about August 30, 1775, and they named the new mission Santo Domingo. The first services were held in a cave at the base of a large red rock, on the south side of the arroyo. The mission church was soon constructed, near the cave.

Padre Garcia was at Santo Domingo until late 1776 and was then succeeded by Padre José Aivar, who was on duty until the end of 1791. Other Dominicans performed functions at Santo Domingo during his time as resident priest. One was Padre Luis Sales, who performed baptisms here in 1778 and 1779. Luis Sales was the only Dominican in California to have some of his letters published. Sales wrote that the Indians of Santo Domingo (and San Vicente) were “unquiet, subversive and inclined to revolt”. A terrible smallpox epidemic killed a third of the population in 1781.

In 1782, the mission’s neophyte population was only 79. Getting Indians to live at Santo Domingo was more difficult than at other missions, where food offered by the missionaries had bribed them away from their native homes. The problem for Santo Domingo was that most of the Indians lived along the coast and on San Quintin Bay, 20 miles away. The mission’s agricultural program required quantities of fresh water to grow crops and raise livestock. The natives had survived on far less water but there was plenty of fresh seafood. Salt flats near the bay provided for the salt needs of the northern Dominican missions. Sea otters, sold to the Russians, were an important source of revenue, along with sales of salt.

The next resident missionary was Padre Miguel Abad who was stationed here from January 1792 to September 1804. In 1793, the church was made of adobe and poles. It measured approximately 22 by 50 feet in size. In 1798, a large chapel with additional rooms and a kitchen was constructed 2.6 miles to the east, where the 23-year-old mission would be moved. This placed the mission closer to a better water supply.

By 1799, a cattle ranch outpost was made at San Telmo, about 16 miles north. Construction of addition buildings continued at both Santo Domingo and San Telmo. San Telmo was an important visita of Santo Domingo and has been populated continually since mission times. In 1800, the neophyte population at Santo Domingo increased to 315.

Padre José Miguel de Pineda was next in charge at Santo Domingo and made entries in the mission books until August 24, 1809. Many other Dominicans also officiated during these years. The next resident priests listed in the book of records were Bernardo Solá (1809-1811), Roque Valera (1811-1812), José Duro (1812-1819), and Domingo Luna (1820-1821). Very few baptisms appear in the following years and it is uncertain if a resident priest was even living at Santo Domingo after 1821. Large gaps in recording events began after 1822. The next entries into the mission books were made in 1827 and 1828. The population was down to 78 in 1830. The final entries made into the mission book began again in 1832 and were made each year to 1836, then in 1838, and the final baptism was on March 18, 1839.

An interesting story comes from the pen of the late editor of Desert Magazine, Choral Pepper:

In the late 1920s, the buildings were still intact with embroidered altar cloths, carved wooden saints, and bells hanging from a crossbar in front of the mission. The faithful then had a superstition that so long as the bells hung in their rightful place, peace and health would dwell in the pueblo. Then one night in 1930, the bells were stolen. Immediately several older residents dropped dead. After that, the mission fell into ruin and its altarpieces disappeared.

While editor of Desert magazine, I was told a story by a reliable reader that might explain the disappearance of the wooden saints. On a visit to Santo Domingo, she had personally examined four carved wooden mission figures, each about three feet high and so heavy that it required the efforts of several strong men to lift them. She was told that the mission’s last priest had left the saints in the care of a local farmer. Responsibility for their safe keeping had been passed from one surviving senior member of the community to the next eldest upon the death of each in turn. Originally there had been five figures, she was told, but one had been loaned to a neighboring village for a festival and never returned. At that time, they resided in a shed at the rear of a farmhouse near the mission.

An early traveler who discovered gold dust clinging to their hollowed insides reportedly found a different set of figures, similar except in size.

To reach Santo Domingo, take a wide, graded dirt road east for 5 miles (from Km. 169 on Highway 1), just north of the Santo Domingo river crossing.
Oct 2014
Mission Los Dolores Chillá (at La Pasión)

The final location of Mission Dolores (del Sur) which operated at La Pasión from 1741-1768 was not often visited in modern times as it is not along a common route of travel.

Here is a photo from 1950 by Marquis McDonald:

The next photo is from Jack Swords taken in 2000:

In 2017, I visited the site. A goat ranch was active there but welcomed my visit...

The last photo is looking across the arroyo (riverbed) to the mission site.
Jul 2017
If I may...
Jesuits also established very important and profitfull missions in south América. Mostly in the territory of current provincia de Misiones in northeast Argentina and Rio Grande do Sul in south Brasil.
Many of those places are touristic atractions. The most visited in Argentina is San Ignacio. I don't recall now the names of those from Brasil.

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