Times Past

Junipero Serra wanted the whole world to hear the mission bell

San Luis Obispo - The TribuneOctober 26, 2013 

A baptismal record of Junipero Serra baptizing three infant Native Americans at Mission San Luis Obispo in December 1783.


“Come, O ye Gentiles! Come to the faith of Jesus Christ!”

I first heard the story of Fr. Junipero Serra founding Mission San Antonio de Padua from a Franciscan brother who was helping to rebuild the ruined mission in 1949. It was my introduction to the legends surrounding the man whose 300th anniversary is being celebrated by exhibits up and down California.

On July 14, 1771, Serra along with Frs. Miguel Pieras and Buenaventura Sitjar, traveled from Monterey to a campsite that had been used by the Portolá expedition in 1769. “La Hoya de la Sierra de Santa Lucia,”was a valley at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains known as the “Valley of the Oaks.”

Serra’s lifelong friend, Fr. Juan Crespi, was the diarist of that first overland expedition. Crespi thought that the valley would be an excellent site for a mission.

Serra directed the soldiers to hang a large bronze bell on an oak tree. Fr. Serra rang the bell while loudly calling for all “gentiles” to come and receive the faith of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Pieras was confused by what he was observing, asking Serra, “Why do you tire yourself here if this is not to be the spot where the mission is to be built? ... There is no [Indian] nearby. Why waste time ringing the bell?”

Fr. Serra is reported to have replied, “Let me give vent to my heart which desires that this bell might be heard around the world.”

Serra prepared to say Mass when a single, curious Salinan Indian arrived. Serra gave him gifts and he returned with other Salinans. Rejoicing, Junipero Serra returned to Monterey where he was establishing the new mission at Carmel. He left Frs. Miguel Pieras and Buenaventura Sitjar to begin the actual construction.

The San Luis Obispo Mission Museum docents recently made a trip to the Huntington Library’s Junipero Serra Tercentennial Exhibit. Steve Hackel, the curator of the exhibit, has gathered Serra-related materials from the island of Mallorca where Serra was born, from Serra’s time in Mexico and from his service as Father-President of the Franciscan missions in Baja and Alta California.

The exhibit titled “Junípero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions” closes on Jan. 6, 2014. I urge readers to travel to San Marino, next door to Pasadena. The Huntington has always been a spectacular place to visit with its beautiful grounds and permanent art collection. The Serra exhibit makes it a must for anyone who wants to understand California’s beginnings.

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, at 7 p.m. in the beautifully rehabilitated Parish Hall at Mission San Luis Obispo, my colleague, Dr. Robert Hoover, will make a presentation on “Junipero Serra at Mission San Antonio de Padua.” No single scholar knows more about Mission San Antonio than Bob Hoover.

In 1976, Bob started the Cal Poly-sponsored Summer Field Archaeology School at Mission San Antonio de Padua. His students included prominent archaeologists like Julia Costello, Georgia Lee and Jack Williams. It quickly became the cutting edge of California Mission archaeology. Bob is also an outstanding presenter. It’s appropriate that he be the keynote speaker for our Mission’s celebration of Junipero Serra’s Tercentennial.


You are invited to my traditional Halloween Day tour of the historic Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo on Thursday, Oct. 31, meeting at the Bridge Street entrance at 4 p.m. The tour is free.

Readers may also wish to attend “SLO Souls: Meet the Eternal Residents of San Luis Obispo,” Saturday, Nov. 2, put on by the History Center of San Luis Obispo County from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. at the Odd Fellows Cemetery, Higuera Street and Elks Way. Admission is payable at the event and is $12 for History Center Members and $15 for non-members.

Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association

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