Robert H. Jackson

22830 Thadds Trail

Spring, TX   77373


The Building of the California and Paraguay Missions: Town Development on the Fringes of Empire


            The building of the missions constituted the quintessential manifestation of the creation of new utopian communities on the fringes of Spanish America. Although it took years and even decades to the complete the final stages of construction of the new communities, there were common elements in the general design and layout of the missions. The master plan was the same as that used in the new cities built in the New World, laid out on a grid plan and centered on a central square known as a plaza. Medieval European convents and monasteries also influenced the design of the missions. Although this was the ultimate goal for the missionaries who were crafting new indigenous towns, there were also stages in the development of the building complexes or cascos. In Paraguay, for example, the Jesuits moved missions to several sites because of attacks by hostile natives or rival colonists, and in some instances the final stage of construction of permanent churches and other structures occurred a century or more following the initial establishment of the mission. Many of the missions established on the fringes of northern Mexico, on the other hand, occupied only one site or at most two. The missionaries completed the construction of the building complexes in a shorter period of time, but construction also passed through phases from temporary structures to permanent ones.

            In some instances the missionaries also incorporated measures of social control and social engineering into the design of the utopian mission communities.  Examples of this include the construction of what was called a coti guazu in the Paraguayan missions to segregate widows and the wives of fugitive men from the rest of the general population. Missionaries stationed on the northern frontier of New Spain included dormitories for single women and sometimes for single men in the plan for the new communities they developed to also insure the segregation of the sexes outside of the confines of the institution of Christian marriage. In the last decades of the eighteenth-century the construction of these dormitories conformed to a government mandate. Housing for indigenous families also constituted an important aspect of the program to transform indigenous society. The missionaries expected native peoples to live in European-style housing in nuclear families. The Jesuits in Paraguay, for example, abolished Guarani communal housing, but did arrange the blocks of new housing to permit the persistence of the clan structure.

            This essay outlines the development of and the common model for the construction of the missions in California and Paraguay. It begins with a discussion of the building of the mission communities in California is followed by a discussion of the Jesuit reducciones of Paraguay. Themes include stages of the building of the cascos, as well as the functionality of the missions as independent towns with buildings dedicated to a variety of uses beyond the church that was the spiritual center of the new utopias.

Building the Missions in California

            The California missions contained many architectural features in common with the Jesuit missions of Paraguay, such as the use of tile roofs and colonnades added to buildings to provide protection from the rain and shade. The Franciscans directed the construction of complete building complexes in a period of twenty to thirty years in the California missions, including the construction of the final church at the mission. Annual reports for the twenty-one missions report the construction of 21 wooden church, 44 adobe churches, and three stone churches. Other buildings in the mission complexes included granaries, medical facilities, craft shops, and housing for the indigenous neophytes.[1] Documentation for the sequence of building construction is fairly complete, and we examine in detail the development of the building complex at La Purisima mission, established in 1788.

            The Franciscans established La Purisima in the spring of 1788 at a Chumash village known as Salsacupi. Over the course of twenty-four years that they occupied the site, the Franciscans directed the construction of an extensive casco at the Salsacupi site. Then in December of 1812 a strong earthquake followed by heavy rains heavily damaged the mission, and several months later the Franciscans moved the mission to a new site several miles away know as Los Berros.[2] Considerable historical and archaeological data exists to detail the construction of the buildings at both sites of the mission.

The Franciscan missionaries stationed at La Purisima may have had general notions about building construction, but at the same time they were by no stretch of the imagination skilled architects. In hindsight, and given the high level of seismic activity in California, the very choice of the site for the mission buildings proved to be a bad one. Moreover, some of the structures in the casco, particularly several multistory granaries/storerooms, were especially vulnerable to earthquake damage. Writing in March of 1813, Mariano Payeras, O.F.M., who had not been at La Purisima during most of the construction activity at the casco, noted that,

Salsacupi is on a hill sloping from south to north. Its buildings, located on a square, are necessarily uneven in their floors and roof ridges. Although with much industry and effort, utilizing excavations, embankments and supports, the builders were able to reduce by half the unsuitability of its terrain for buildings ,… they could not overcome the imperious and unmerciful violence of a very severe earthquake, because every violent thing seeks its center. It is natural that the earthquake, which knocked down every building on a slope, including those of the Ortegas, as well as our orchards and the church along with everything else here, should have the same direction or thrust as its vibrations. Therefore, on those hills which slope south, buildings fell towards the south; on those sloping north, they fell to the north… Now we are faced with the even more difficult problem of a new establishment. We are unable to make profitable use of the old, since there is no room to build on this side next to Salsacupi, and to do so would be to expose us to the same danger that the buildings would be obliged to suffer from the cruel weather.[3]

In discussing plans to move to a new site, Payeras noted that “…the other [Franciscan missionary] will go to Los Berros to establish a medium-sized, but strong, mission so that we might carry out the planned transfer in an orderly way and without any great worry to the priests and their flock.[4]” Apparently the lesson of the devastating 1812 earthquake had taught Payeras the need to rebuild on a smaller scale, and to build structures that were stronger and hence more earthquake resistant. The casco at Salsacupi, although built on a large scale, had proven to be vulnerable to earthquake damage.

            Table 1 summarizes the record of building construction at Salsacupi based on the annual reports prepared each year by the missionaries. Based on several decades of archaeological testing at the Salsacupi site, archaeologist Julia Costello developed a diagram that shows the hypothetical configuration of the mission quadrangle, and the plan for the mission was distinct from the other establishments in California since the large church completed at the end of 1802 divided the quadrangle (see Figure 1). The construction of the casco at Salsacupi reached completion fairly rapidly, and in thirteen years there was a large quadrangle and church. In 1788, the Franciscans had temporary wattle and daub structures built, including a chapel and residence for themselves. In the following year construction of permanent adobe structures began. The first adobe structure was the church built in 1789 and enlarged three years later in 1792.

In excavations in 1991 and 1992, archaeologist Julia Costello identified what she called the “Courtyard Building.” Costello described the elements excavated from the “Courtyard Building” in the following terms:

Most of a tile floor had been cleaned off with heavy equipment several decades ago. Small surface exposures and some soundings defined a tile floor set in a diamond pattern with a square bordering row.[5]  

In the 1970s, workers had exposed floor tiles laid in a diamond pattern in the structure, and Costello’s excavations located foundations as well as surviving floor tiles not removed during the previous work.[6] Several facts strongly indicate that the “Courtyard Building” indeed was the adobe church built in 1789. The location of the structure within the larger complex, just behind the larger second adobe church built between 1798 and 1802, indicates that this was the first church. The dimensions of the building are close to the dimensions reported in the 1789, and in the 1792 annual report when the church was enlarged. Finally, the diamond pattern floor tiles not commonly found in what can be considered utilitarian structures suggest a special use for the “Courtyard Building,” such as the church.

            During the decade of the 1790s the Franciscans congregated hundreds of Chumash to the growing community, and the mission population grew rapidly in total numbers.  At the end of 1789, when the first adobe church reached completion, 151 Chumash lived at the mission. The number reached 920 in 1798, when the Franciscans initiated construction on a new and larger church that took four years to build (1798-1802-dedicated in February of 1803).[7] The rapid population expansion rendered the 1789 church too small, even after being enlarged in 1792. There is contradictory information regarding the church. A series of important historical photographs taken beginning around 1880 document the ruins of the first mission site, and the tall walls of what apparently is the second adobe church are clearly visible over the lower surrounding walls of structures dedicated to more mundane purposes. The photographs suggest that the church was both long and tall.[8] Several early descriptions of the ruins at the first site suggested dimensions of 200’ x 60’ and 100’ x 60’ for the structure.[9] Based on a careful analysis of the historic photographs, one scholar challenged the earlier assumptions about the size of the church structure.

At first glance it appears from early photographs that the church was two stories high because there were clearly two levels of beam holes in the structure which had dominated the ruins into the first decade of this century. However, a closer examination shows possibly five cross walls, clearly indicating a series of at least four rooms in a line behind the church. Some six or more courses of adobe above the top row of beam holes could indicate that there was a loft or even a third story on top. Indications of windows with arched tops argue against this being the center wall of a building two rooms deep. Another unusual feature of this church is its placement jutting out into the quadrangle rather than constituting one wing of it. The church with its row of rooms behind it effectively divided the quadrangle in two, and a wall pierced by an arched doorway completed the separation. Had the church been centrally placed within the block it would have followed one significant, though uncommon, plan known in Spanish and Mexican architecture, but its off-center placement makes it unique).[10]

The scholar further rejected the earlier interpretation that the church may have measured as long as 200 feet. Archaeologist Costello provided additional important details on the 1802 church. Costello calculated the dimensions of the church as 99.4 feet x 54.4 feet, which is more realistic given the limitations of building with adobe bricks. Moreover, when the four structures behind the church are included, the entire line of buildings measured 205.6 feet.[11]

            Subsequent annual reports record considerable building activity, but did not always include the use of the new structures. The general pattern at the other missions shows that in addition to a church, the first permanent buildings would also include quarters for the missionaries as well as dormitories for single women and older girls entering puberty.[12] For the first two years at the mission, the Franciscans probably continued to use the temporary residence built in 1788.  They probably then occupied new quarters built sometime in the early 1790s. The 1790 annual report notes the construction of seven rooms, but not the use of the rooms. It is possible that these structures included a new residence for the missionaries. The 1797 report notes the construction of a new residence for the missionaries most likely was located in the east wing (see Table 1).

            The Franciscans also provided housing for support staff. The government stationed a handful of soldiers, the escolta, at each mission to protect the missionaries and hopefully control the indigenous neophytes. The record suggests that the Franciscans had at least two and probably three barracks built for the escolta. The first may have been in 1791, when they reported the construction of three buildings outside of the main complex. The report did not indicate the use of the three buildings, but one of the three could have been a barracks for the soldiers. Three years later, in 1794, the missionaries reported the building of another barracks, a new and presumably larger barracks in 1798. Foundations north of the main quadrangle very well may have been from the last barracks erected at the first site. The Franciscans routinely hired an overseer generally from the ranks of the escolta. The 1794 report lists the construction of a residence for the overseer. The same report also noted the construction of a residence for visitors to the mission (see Table 1).

            The Chumash neophytes lived in several types of housing during the development of the first site of La Purisima mission. Initially, families continued to live in traditional grass huts. However, this was a temporary expedient, pending the completion of other elements of the main building complex. As was the case at the other missions, the Franciscans stationed at La Purisima envisioned an orderly indigenous community with neophytes living in adobe European-style housing. In the last decades of the eighteenth-century the Spanish Crown promoted policies of more rapid assimilation of the indigenous populations of the Americas. This included not only dress, but also housing. The annual reports do not record the date of construction of adobe Indian housing at La Purisima. However, the annual report prepared by Fr. Mariano Payeras, O.F.M., reporting on damage caused to the mission by a powerful earthquake in December of 1812, noted that: “A hundred neophytes’ houses and the pozole building, which were all made of adobe and mortar and roofed with tile, are useless.”[13] A document written by Payeras in March 1813 confirmed the existence of housing for the neophytes built of tile: “After Mission La Purisima suffered the strongest of earthquakes on this past feast of the Apostle Santo Tomas, we subsequently learned that its buildings, including the rancheria [emphasis added] and orchard fence, being all of adobe and covered with tiles, were useless.”[14]

            When did the Franciscans direct the construction of housing for the neophytes? A report written on conditions at La Purisima in 1800 provides clues to the range for the construction dates of the neophyte housing. According to the report, “The habitations of the Indians are the same to which they were accustomed in the pagan state, because until now it has not been possible to provide more convenient lodgings. The construction of the necessary buildings for the storing of the crops and for keeping other goods left no time for it.”[15]  This places the construction of neophyte housing in one of two time periods between 1800 and 1809: either 1801-1803; or 1805-1809. There is a gap in the extant annual reports for the years 1799-1809. Franciscan historian Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., viewed reports from a large archive maintained in San Francisco before the destruction of the documents in the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, and only reported building activities in several year for which the original reports no longer survive. Either the reports did not record the building of neophyte housing, or else Engelhardt did not bother to note the construction of housing for the neophytes.

            The same 1800 report provides additional details on housing for the neophytes. The report mentions the dormitory for single women and older girls. The annual reports do not specifically mention the construction of the dormitory, but, because of the concern that the Franciscans had about Indian sexuality, dormitories for women were generally among the first buildings constructed. The report described the dormitory as being:

The apartment for the single women is a room fourteen yards [varas] square. Almost all around the walls inside are the bunks constructed of good boards, a little more than five palms from the floor, and proportionately wide. There they spread their mats and sleep very comfortably. In the same apartment they have a convenient place for their necessities. During the day they are not obliged to stay within, nor in any other apartment, unless it be as punishment for some misdeed.[16]

The same document shows that the Franciscans did not have the same concerns about sexual misconduct by single male neophytes. According to the report: “[t]he single men, after they have recited the prayers near the apartments of the Fathers, are free to retire to their homes, or to the pozolera, or they may remain to sleep in the corridors, which like the pozolera is outside the cloister.”[17]

            Much of the building construction at the first site of La Purisima mission was of structures associated in different ways with the mission economy. In the 1790s, when most of the casco took form, the Franciscans did not always report the use of all of the structures built, but enough information did make it into the annual reports to give some indications. One class of buildings was storerooms used for different purposes. In 1794, the Franciscans had a storeroom built, three new storerooms in 1796, and a tack room used to house tack for horses and oxen. The Franciscans taught the neophytes certain craft skills, and had shops built for these activities. One example was the carpenter shop built in 1794. Finally, the Franciscans had granaries built to store the harvested crops, and the annual reports record the construction of granaries in 1789, 1791, and 1795 (see Table 1). The location of most of these structures within the casco cannot be determined. However, there were four rooms located behind the second church completed in 1802 that may have been granaries.

The photographs from the late nineteenth-century show that these rooms were two stories in height, and may have also contained half lofts that would have been used for drying grain. One author described these rooms in the following terms:

At first glance it appears from early photographs that the church was two stories high because there were clearly two levels of beam holes in the structure which had dominated the ruins into the first decade of this century. However, a closer examination shows possibly five cross walls, clearly indicating a series of at least four rooms in a line behind the church. Some six or more courses of adobes above the top row of beam holes could indicate that there was a loft or even a third story on top. Indications of windows with arched tops argue against this being the center wall of a building two rooms deep.[18]

The historic photographs indicate that these structures were built with walls two to 2 ½ adobes thick, and had buttresses. However, even with additional stabilizing support from buttresses, these tall structures would have been vulnerable to earthquake damage.

            The story of the mission casco is one not only of the construction of new buildings, but also maintenance of existing ones that required considerable indigenous labor. If unprotected adobe, unfired bricks, dissolves with rainfall and groundwater. Routine maintenance included whitewashing adobe walls, and adjustment to and repair of tile roofs that protected adobe walls from rainfall. Most of these repair activities were routine, and did not enter the document record other than in general references. However, sometimes comments on repairs to existing building enter into documents that otherwise focus on different topics. An example of this comes from a letter of January 10, 1810 from Payeras to fellow Franciscan Estevan Tapis, O.F.M. In a brief passage in the longer document Payeras notes that: “I fixed the old house, roofing it with the materials from the house where Your Reverence spent the night. I also whitewashed it and at last it is ready for the governor, Your Reverence, and other laymen and priests who might come to honor it whenever they wish.”[19]Payeras most likely referred to the quarters for guests to the mission built in 1794.

            The earthquake that struck the Santa Barbara Channel region on December 21, 1812 severely damaged the buildings at Salsacupi, and was followed by heavy rains that further damaged the buildings. Several documents described the extent of the damage. The first was the annual report written several weeks after the earthquake. The report noted that,

The extraordinary and dreadful earthquake which this mission suffered on the memorable day of the glorious Apostle Santo Tomas, ruined the church completely; destroyed the altar, various images, and paintings and ruined the greater part of its furnishings. The vestments were not destroyed because they were inside the drawers. Some of its buildings have collapsed, but others, if the damage does not continue, might be restored to use after thorough repair, not as living quarters, but rather for minor uses which do not require as much security. A hundred neophytes’ houses and the pozole building, which were all made of adobe and mortar and roofed with tile, are useless. Even the orchard’s adobe wall, which is covered with tile, is either collapsed or leaning so that the damaged parts will scarcely provide any material for the one that later on must be built…The most necessary items were dug out quickly, and what is most urgent has been fixed. A large Indian hut has been made over into a church, and two huts are serving as primitive lodging for the priests. We will continue to build the essential buildings out of wood and grass until the earth quiets down and experience shows us the most proper methods for the later buildings.[20]

Several months later, in March of 1813, Payeras wrote a second description of the damage to the mission buildings.

To see what damage had been done, we inspected the interior of the storehouses and we found sadly that all of them are useless from foundation to roof; that the church is destroyed completely; and that neither priests, nor soldiers, nor the neophytes want to, nor can, live without fear and danger in their partly collapsed, partly leaning, and completely cracked quarters…But our suffering is not lessened by knowing that to rebuild in this location, which is limited by what is already built, we must first tear down with obvious danger what has remained standing, clear off debris, and dig up even the foundations, which, like the buildings, are cracked. Then we must begin again to build in such a badly situated and defective location.[21]

            Payeras wrote in March of 1813 to ask for permission to move the mission to a site several miles away called Los Berros. Payeras received permission, and relocated the mission to Los Berros in April of the same year. Payeras directed the construction of a new casco that was very different from the complex destroyed at Salsacupi. The 1813 annual report described the first structures built at Los Berros in the following terms: “All the structures essential to the mission have been temporarily built (though with the austerity that must be understood) of wood and roofed with tile. A church which holds all of the people was constructed of adobe over a heavy wooden frame.”[22] Payeras had permanent structures at Los Berros built that hopefully would withstand future earthquakes, and they were low and squat. Moreover, the Franciscan abandoned the more conventional quadrangle, and had the casco built at the base of a ridge along a rough line. Neuerburg described the configuration of the buildings at Los Berros in the following terms:

Single, isolated, multipurpose buildings were found at some of the mission ranchos, but only this and that at San Fernando are found at the missions themselves. The casa de los Padres at San Fernando was built after a completed quadrangle already existed and probably was intended to be the first element of a new grander complex. Only with difficulty could the building at La Purisima [built in 1815] have been made part of a traditional quadrangle in the location chosen. Why the builders of La Purisima decided to line up the buildings along one side of the valley remains a mystery; no other mission followed suit. However, no other mission is located in such a narrow valley. [23]

The solution to the “mystery” most likely resides in the traumatic experience of having survived a severe earthquake that destroyed most of the buildings at Salsacupi and particularly the multi-story granaries behind the church, and Payeras’s decision to build a “medium-sized-but solid and strong-mission[.]” Annual reports from 1815, 1816, and 1818 described the three main structures erected at Los Berros:

[1815] The temporary ones [buildings] are being repaired: The wooden ones, which are in danger of collapse are being propped up; and a hundred varas of double walled buildings -an adobe and a half thick with a tile roof- have been built. These serve as residence for the priests and include servants quarters, guest rooms, a chapel, and the remainder as a workhouse.[24]

[1816 A building with] a corridor on both sides has been constructed, 100 varas long and six varas wide, one adobe thick with a tile roof. It is to be used for the guardhouse, residences for the soldiers, for the majordomos [overseers], and shops for carpentry, and the new looms. Also another building 50 varas long has been built with the same materials for sheltering the sick. An equal length of the old building was repaired as an infirmary for women.[25]

[1818] Because the framework fell, in the same place a temporary church of adobe was built with a tile roof, loft, sacristy and counter sacristy.[26]

The reports show a more modest program of building construction than at Salsacupi, but the range of uses was represented from the sacred to profane. There were residences for the priests, the soldiers stationed at the mission, and overseers hired by the Franciscans to manage the mission estates. There were also workshops, the sacred space of the church, and infirmaries segregated on the basis of gender to tend to the many maladies of the indigenous neophytes. There were few references in the documentary record on housing for the indigenous population, but archaeological excavations uncovered two long adobe structures with a combined length of 532 feet, divided into small two-room apartments for the neophytes.[27]

The Building of the Jesuit Missions of Paraguay

The Jesuits in the first decades of the seventeenth-century relocated the missions in response to external threats, as well as in response to the growth of the neophyte populations that resulted in the establishment of new missions. The early history of the reducciones closely paralleled that of the Franciscan establishments in Florida. Many of the Florida missions occupied multiple sites, and had to be rebuilt after relocation to a new site.[28] The buildings of the Florida missions consisted of less permanent materials such as wood or wattle and daub with thatch roofs.[29] The major difference, however, is that the Florida missions did not pass through a transition to the use of more durable building construction materials, as was the case in Paraguay and the missions of the northern fringe of New Spain.

The early reports on the Jesuit missions of Paraguay record the use of wood or wattle and daub as the primary building materials for the churches and other structures of the new communities.  Building with wood, tapia (walls of earth compressed in a mold), or wattle and daub allowed the rapid completion of buildings, particularly larger structures such as churches. The cartas anuas record the construction of a number of churches in relatively short periods of time:  at San Miguel between 1641 and 1643; San Ignacio and Santa Ana in 1644; Loreto 1645-1646; Corpus Christi and Martires in 1647-1649;  San Francisco Javier in 1647; Candelaria in 1653; and at San Tome in the years 1663-1666.[30] In the early phase buildings had thatch roofs, but the Jesuits later had burnt roof tiles added because of fires that destroyed mission buildings with thatch roofs. The first references to the use of tiles date to the 1630s and 1640s.[31] As the threat of attack faded and the new mission communities achieved a level of stability, the Jesuits directed the construction of more permanent buildings with adobe walls.  The first references to the use of adobe in construction date to 1644.[32]

In the eighteenth-century the Jesuits at many of the reducciones directed the reconstruction of many buildings of stone. Nevertheless, during this later phase of reconstruction,  the Jesuits did not have  all buildings rebuilt of stone, and in particular the black robes had housing for the Guarani populations built of less durable materials. In 1749, for example, a memorial for Loreto mandated the construction of housing for the Guarani neophytes with tile roofs to avoid the hazard of fire with thatch roofs.[33] When the Crown ordered the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, local officials prepared detailed inventories of the missions including the buildings. The Guarani housing at Aposteles, for example, consisted of structures of stone, tapia or adobe, and wattle and daub, but all roofed with tiles.[34] Substantial ruins of neophytes housing does not survive at most of the missions. One exception is at Trinidad, where the remains of arcades stone housing units can been seen today.

The record shows planning in the building of the mission complexes, although the development of a new town did not always conform to reasonable expectations for urban planning.  A 1714 memorial for Nuestra Senora la Fe notes:

Because this village is badly formed or placed they don’t have where to expand well, it is not by luck that they remove from the church and the residence of the Fathers the houses that have to be built again, from where it is very inconvenient to minister promptly, as should be done with the sick and the other people who live at a distance, and in addition to this our residence occupies most of the hill, that should be occupied by the town or houses of the Indians.[35]

The missionaries themselves were amateur architects at best, as acknowledged by Antonio Sepp, S.J., the founder of San Juan Bautista. Sepp noted that he did not have formal training as an architect, but did state that he had traveled around Europe and took ideas for the planning of the new mission from that experience. Nevertheless, Sepp is recognized as having been one of the more skilled missionary-architects.[36] However, during the eighteenth-century phase of reconstruction the missionaries received helped from several Jesuit lay brothers who worked on several churches. The first was Jose Brasanelli, who was also a painter and sculpture. He worked on the churches at Itapua, San Francisco de Borja, Loreto, and Santa Ana. He may also have worked on the churches San Francisco Javier and San Ignacio Mini.  The most important of the eighteenth-century architects was Juan Bautista Primoli. Before working in the missions Primoli had designed buildings in Buenos Aires and Cordoba. Primoli was responsible for the churches of San Miguel and Concepcion, and also completed the church of Trinidad along with Fr. Jose Grimau, S.J..[37]

            The Jesuits directed h construction of large and impressive churches during the eighteenth-century building phase in the missions. The church at San Miguel is a fine example of the mission architecture. Built between 1735 and around 1744 to 1747, the stone church had three naves. The neighboring church at San Lorenzo, also built of stone, reportedly had five naves, and measured 93 x 43 varas.[38] Details on construction at the Jesuit missions is far from complete, but documents do provide some clues to the development of mission building complexes or at least the churches. The record indicates the construction of four churches at San Juan Bautista, established in 1697. The first two built in 1697 and 1698 respectively were temporary structures, and a new church was built in 1708. Six years later in 1714 work began on a permanent stone church (see Figure 2), and a bell tower was added in 1724.[39]

What did the missions look like at the time of the Jesuit expulsion in 1768. It should be noted that the expulsion left major church construction projects incomplete. The most notable was the great stone church at Jesus de Tavarangue left without a roof and never completed despite efforts made by the priests that replaced the black robes. Ruins today evoke images of the great churches built in the decades prior to the removal of the Jesuits. The 1768 inventory prepared for San Ignacio Mini following the expulsion described a well decorated three nave church with three altars in addition to the main altar.[40] The 1768 inventory for Santa Ana also describes a well decorated three nave church with a wooden bell tower. Adjoining the church was the cloister that contained the residence of the missionaries, offices, and different shops used in craft industries all built around two patios.  The cemetery was divided into four parts with men buried separately from women, and boys separate from girls. Next to the cemetery was the coti guazu, the dormitory for widows and the wives of men who had run away from the mission, playing a similar role to the dormitories built in the California missions.   Behind the church and cloister was the walled orchard planted with a variety of fruits.[41] Houses for the Guarani neophytes occupied three sides of the main square.

Contemporary diagrams of San Miguel and San Juan Bautista prepared c. 1756 (see Figures 3 & 4) provide further evidence for the configuration of the mission casco.  The plaza was the center of the two communities, and the church, cloister, craft shops, and neophyte housing flanked the plaza on four sides. The church, the all-important sacred precinct, dominated the community. The configuration of the California missions was similar.


            Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries attempted to create primitive utopian Christian communities in California and Paraguay, and the building complexes of the missions provided the template for the new ordered societies the missionaries attempted to create.. European and New World convents and monasteries as well as the new idea governing urban development in the Americas provided the model for the missions. The mission cascos developed around the public space of the plaza, a feature found in most Spanish American towns of all sizes. The church was the largest and most dominant structure in the town, and was consciously designed to impress upon the natives the magnificence and superiority of the new religion.

            The mission complexes, either in California or in Paraguay, established the physical template for the new orderly societies being created.  They also contained elements of social change and social control.  The missionaries imposed their own notions of monogamous marriage, and assigned couples married under the rites of the new religion apartments suitable for a nuclear family. The mission cascos also included dormitories for widows, single women, or the wives of fugitives designed to impose a new code of morality and at the same time to save male neophytes from the corruption of naturally promiscuous women.  Through the dormitories the missionaries insured that they would manipulate and control the marriage process. Moreover, by keeping the wives of fugitives in the dormitories, the missionaries were able to use them as leverage over their husbands. Missionaries also took young children away from the parents and housed them in dormitories to educate them, protect them from the corrupting influence of their native culture, and to use them as leverage over their parents.

            Urban life defined civilization in Iberian society, and the Spanish encountered uncivilized jungle and desert on the fringes of the New World Empire.  The missionaries paved the way for the creation of civilization by reducing non-town dwelling peoples to sedentary life. They also furthered the civilizing goal by creating communities in the wilderness that brought order to a savage landscape.






Table 1: Building Construction at La Purisima Mission, 1788-1812






60.5’ x 16.5’



13.8’ x 16.5’



88’ x 16.5’



13.8’ x 16.5’


Seven rooms

132’ x 16.5’



85.3’ x 16.5’


Three buildings outside of complex


Not given


Church enlarged

88’ x 16.5’



173.3’ x 16.5’


Soldiers’ barracks

38.5’ x 16.5’



Not given


Guests’ quarters

22’ x 16.5’


Overseer’s quarters

33’ x 16.5’


Carpenter shop

22’ x 16.5’


Tack room

Not given



85.5’ x 19.3’



33’ x 19.3’


Three storerooms

Not given


New residence for the missionaries

Not given


New soldiers’ barracks

Not given


New church

Not given



27.5’ x 19.3’



27.5’ x 19.3’



192.5’ x 19.3’


New soldiers’ barracks

110’ x 19.3?’

Source: Annual Reports, Archivo General de la Nacion, Mexico, D.F.; Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Mission La Concepcion Purisima de Maria Santisima (Santa Barbara, 1932).









[1] Robert H. Jackson and Edward Castillo, Indians, Franciscans and Spanish Colonization: The Impact of the Mission System on California Indians (Albuquerque, 1995), 137-168.


[2] Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M., Mission La Concepcion Purisima de Maria Santisima. reprint edition. (Santa Barbara, 1986).


[3] Mariano Payeras, O.F.M. to Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, La Purisima, March 11, 1813, in Donald Cutter,  trans. & ed.,  Writings of Mariano Payeras (Santa Barbara, 1995), 69 (hereinafter cited as WMP).            


[4] Ibid., 69.


[5] Julia Costello, “Mission Vieja de la Purisima CA-SBA-521H: Report on the 1991-1992    Archaeological Investigations,” unpublished report on file with the City of Lompoc Community Development Department, 1993, 16.


[6] Ibid., 29.


[7] Robert H. Jackson, Indian Population Decline: The Missions of Northwestern New Spain, 1687-1840. (Albuquerque,  1994) , 173.


[8] Two short studies publish most of these historical photographs. The Spring 1975 (21:1) issue of Noticias, the publication of the Santa Barbara Historical Society, contains a series of article relating the history of the first site of La Purisima mission, as well as eight historical photographs.


[9] Ibid., 12.


[10] Norman Neuerburg, The Architecture of Mission La Purisima. (Santa Barbara. 1987), 10.


[11] Costello, “Mission Vieja de la Purisima.”


[12] Jackson and Castillo, Indians, Franciscans and Spanish Colonization, , 137-168.


[13] Mariano Payeras, O.F.M. to Jose Joaquin de Arrillaga, La Purisima, March 11, 1813, in WMP, 13.


[14] Ibid.


[15] Quoted in Zephyrin Engelhardt, O.F.M.,  Mission La Concepcion Purisima (Mission Santa Barbara, 1932), 14.


[16] Quoted in Ibid., 14.


[17] Quoted in Ibid., 14.


[18] Neuerburg, Mission La Purisima, 10.


[19] In WMP, 51.


[20] In ibid., 64.


[21] Mariano Payeras, O.F.M. to Jose Joaquin de Arrillage, La Purisima, March 11, 1813, in WMP, 66.


[22] In WMP, 72.


[23] Neuerburg, Mission La Purisima,14.


[24] In WMP, 80.


[25] In Ibid., 118.


[26] In Ibid., 169.


[27] James Deetz, “Final Summary Report of Investigations at La Purisima Mission State Historical Monument,” unpublished report filed with the State of California Department of Natural Resources, Division of Beaches and Parks, 1963, 25.


[28] On the relocation of Florida missions see John Hann, “Summary Guide To Spanish Florida Missions and Visitas With Churches in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries,” The Americas 46:4 (April, 1990), 1-95.


[29] Calvin Jones, John Hann, and John Scarry, “San Pedro y San Pablo de Patale: A Seventeenth-Century Spanish Mission In Leon Country, Florida, “ Florida Archaeology #5, 1991; Bonnie McEwan, The Spanish Missions of La Florida (Gainesville, 1993).

[30] Ernesto Maeder, “La poblacion de las misiones de Guaranies (1641-1682). Reubicacion de los pueblos y  consecuencias demograficas,” Estudos Ibero-Americanos 15:1 (1988), 49-68.


[31] Ibid., 56.


[32] Ibid., 56.


101 Alfredo Poenitz, La Herencia Misionera, Internet site, url:, chapter 15. The document read, in part: “…componer las casas de los indios, y en hacer otras casas nuevas para que todo el pueblo pueda vivir en casas de tejas, con esto se librará del riesgo de quemarse las casas de paja, que muchos usan. Los pilares de las casas, que se hicieren serán de piedra como está la que ahora se acaba de hacer...”


[34] Ibid., chapter 14. The inventory reads: Tiene este pueblo al presente setenta y cuatro hileras de casas, y todas estan techadas con tejas. Las veinte y dos hileras de ellas de pared de piedra, y cinco de ellas son con horcones de piedra tambien con dos capillas. Otras cuatro hileras tienen pared de tierra  y pison y otras cuarenta y ocho son de tapia francesa…”


[35] . Memorial para el pueblo de Nuestra Señora de Fe, año 1714 in Ibid., chap 15. The quote reads: Porque este pueblo esta mal formado, o plantado no tienen ya por donde extenderse bien, si no es a lo large de suerte que retiran mucho de la iglesia, y casa del Padre las casas que de nuebo es necesario fabricar, de donde ha de haber mucha incomodidad para asistir con los ministerios prontamente, como se debe a los enfermos y demas gente que hubiere vivir en lo retirado, y ademas de eso ocupa lo major de la loma, que debiera ocupar el pueblo o casas de indios, la casa de nuestra vivienda.


[36] Ibid., chap. 15. Sepp’s quote reads: “No aprendí, por cierto, con ningún arquitecto cómo hay que trazar un pueblo. Pero he viajado por tantos países y provincias que me di cuenta de cómo muchas aldeas, ciudades y villas europeas han sido construidas casi sin orden por sus fundadores y cómo sus sucesores las han ampliado sin sistema (...) Yo quería evitar éstos y otros errores y trazar mi pueblo metódicamente, según las reglas del urbanismo. La primera condición con la cual debía cumplir fue la medición y el amojonamiento de los terrenos para la construcción de las casas con el cordel del agrimensor (...) En el centro tuve que alinear la plaza, dominada por la iglesia y la casa del párroco. De aquí debían salir todas las calles, siempre equidistantes una de la otra. Una buena distribución en este sentido significaba una ventaja extraordinaria y, al mismo tiempo, el mejor adorno para el pueblo. El cura puede, así, viaticar a sus parroquianos de la manera más rápida y cómoda (...) La plaza era de cuatrocientos pies de ancho y quinientos pies de largo. A ambos lados de la iglesia se elevan, como en un anfiteatro, las casas de los indios, formando filas bien ajustadas (...) De la plaza salen las cuatro calles principales, construidas en forma de cruz, que miden a lo ancho sesenta metros y a lo largo más de mil, y llevan al campo en todas direcciones...”


[37] Olga Martinez Valebona, “La estructura de las reducciones guaranties,” internet file:


[38] Arturo Barcelos, Espaco e Arquelogia nas Missoes Jesuiticas: O Caso de Sao Joao Batista (Porto Alegre, 2000), 178.


[39] Ibid., 178-180.


[40] Gobierno de la Provincia de Misiones, “Reducción Jesuítica de San Ignacio Mini,” Internet  file: The description reads: una iglesia de tres naves, con media naranja en todo cumplida, toda pintada y a trechos dorada, con su púlpito dorado, con cuatro confesionarios, los dos con adornos de escultura y los otros dos de obra común. Su altar mayor con su retablo grande dorado".(Retablo:adorno de piedra o madera esculpida en que se apoya un altar). Al lado derecho de dicha Iglesia tres altares: el primero de Resurrección del Señor, con su retablo dorado; el segundo de San José, con retablo menor, medio dorado; y el tercero del mismo Santo, sin retablo. La capilla del Baptisterio con su altar y retablo medio dorado, y pila bautismal, uno de piedra y la otra de estaño. La sacristía y contrasacristía, y en ellas y en la iglesia y retablos las estatuas, cuadros, láminas, ornamnetos, plata labrada y demás adornos y utensilios del servicio de la iglesia…


[41] Gobierno de la Provincia de Misiones, “Reducción Jesuítica de Santa Ana,” Internet file: The inventory reads: Church "de tres naves, media naranja y perfectamente acabado". Tenía "un púlpito dorado y cuatro confesionarios de talla, dorados y pintados, un órgano grande y siete escaños de asiento para el cabildo. Cinco altares con sus buenos y dorados retablos; el altar mayor, con cuatro estatuas grandes, cuatro pequeñas alrededor del sagrario…Un baptisterio todo pintado, con su retablo dorado y su pila bautismal de lindo vidriado...... Una torre de madera con dos campanas grandes, dos medianas y dos chicas.....Una sacristía hermosa, perfectamente acabada y dorada..... su aguamanil de estaño para lavarse las manos el sacerdote que ha de celebrar....veinte estatuas de varios misterios  de Resurrección, Pasión y de otras festividades de la Iglesia, que están guardadas en la contrasacristía". Cloister: “perfectamente acabada, con sus dos patios, huerta, cerca de piedra, refactorio, cocina y ocho aposentos de los que sirven para los religiosos, uno de los mayordomos, otro de la música, otro chico que servía para el indio portero; uno de los vestidos de cabildo y danzantes, cuatro almacenes, en el patio segundo dos aposentos; el uno de platería y el otro de herrería, dos piezas largas de los telares, un aposento de la panadería y otro de beneficiar miel, otro vacío para lo que se pueda ofrecer". Cotyguazú: "Junto al Cementerio, con cimientos de piedra y tres cuarta vara fuera de ellos también de piedra, lo restante de adobes, con un patio claustral con puerta en común 'las viudas, casadas cuyos maridos anden huídos y las de más y portero en la puerta, que controlaba accesos y salidas' alrededor del cual se sitúan las habitaciones". Cemetery: "Dividido en cuatro partes: los hombres eran enterrados aparte de las mujeres y los niños separados de las niñas. Cada una de aquellas partes eran iguales entre sí, se subdividían en ciertas parcelas con capacidad cada una para diez o doce cadáveres. Calles directas daban acceso al Norte, al Sur y a los costados, a las que daban sombra plantaciones de naranjos. Había también construída una capilla, en cuya parte superior estaba la cruz. Había dos puertas, una adherida a la pared del templo, otra a la Plaza". Orchard: "Situada detras de la Iglesia, Colegio y Talleres, estaba plantada de naranjos, guayabas, bananas, palmeras, toda especie de legumbres y plantas medicinales. Con tres estanques a distintos niveles, el agua pasaba de uno al otro por conductos subterráneos. El piso de uno de los estanques está empedrado y sus costados realizados de piedras calzadas, los muros no son rectos, tienen una ligera curvatura para absorver el peso del agua".[41]





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