|Beginnings of the Mission
|Mission Soledad was founded on October 9, 1791 by father Lasuen. It was the 13th mission founded. The Missions official name, Nuestra Senora de la Soledad, means "Our Most Sorrowful Lady of Solitude." The lady is Mary, Jesus mother.
|Location and Geography
|Mission Soledad was built in an isolated area discovered by Portola. The site had soft, rolling hills and valleys that held the promise of good land. The area turned out to have severe winter weather and to be cold and damp during the colder months and with little rain during the hot months.
|The Native Americans
|We dont know the real name of the tribe that lived near Mission Soledad. Like most of the other California tribes they were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families. Neophytes from Mission San Carlos also made the trip to live at Mission Soledad. Mission records show that about 700 neophytes lived at the Mission by 1806. The Missions Native population suffered through a disease epidemic in 1802 that killed many. The Natives bodies had no defense against European diseases.
|Architecture and Layout
|The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They would encourage local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. The first buildings would be built of wood poles and brush.
The first adobe buildings took 6 years to complete. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didnt think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes werent perfect squares because the Fathers didnt have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.
|Life at the Mission
Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives.
Living at Mission Soledad was more difficult than most of the Missions. The area was cold, damp, and isolated. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Missions members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.
Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.
The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.
At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.
Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers and Fathers that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldnt allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules.
|The End of the Mission Period
|By the 1830s the Mission was in decline. Father Vicente Francisco de Sarria was the last priest at the Mission. He and the few neophytes left suffered through starvation trying to keep the Mission open. The Mission was secularized in 1834. Many of the Missions artifacts and religious articles were sent to Mission San Antonio. Father Sarria was found dead in the Mission church in May 1835. The last neophytes brought his body to Mission San Antonio and abandoned what was left of the Mission. Governor Pio Pico sold the Mission in 1846 for $800. The Mission was left to ruin and by the time the U.S. Government returned the Mission to the Catholic Church there was nothing left except the wall foundations.
|Reconstruction and The Mission Today
|Reconstruction of the Mission began in the early 1950s by an organization called the Native Daughters of the Golden West. There was very little left except one corner of a wall.
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