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Chapter Five. Junípero Serra across the Generations

Steven W. Hackel

Subject History

Place Northern America » United States of America

Period 1000 - 1999 » 1700-1799

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405161831.2008.00006.x


Arguably the most famous and controversial person to have lived in California before 1850, Junípero Serra is also among the most remote. Born nearly three centuries ago, he self-consciously lived an ascetic life of Catholic devotion in defiance even of his own day and age. That life now stands in contrast to much of what Californians seem to embrace: diversity, hedonism, materialism, celebrity, economic advancement, and the here and now. Serra's fame does not rest on a contribution to Roman Catholic liturgy, practice, or thought. Nor does his fame rest in anything he wrote. Rather, his renown rests on the missions he helped establish in California and upon what he has come to represent and how various groups have understood him. Thus, this essay is not so much about the historical Serra but about how successive Franciscans, historians, Indians, and others have come to know Serra, how they have constructed memory of him, and how the various meanings of California's mission system have diverged. Serra has had no shortage of biographers, but few have written about Serra with anything approaching scholarly objectivity. Most of the writing on Serra has been hagiographical, and only recently have these treatments of Serra's life been called into question. Serra, therefore, remains a promising subject of inquiry – a man of surpassing historical significance who remains as controversial ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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