Seven Cities of Gold

Saturday, January 17, AD 2015

Something for the Weekend.  After hearing this week that Pope Francis plans to canonize Blessed Junipero Serra, the Apostle of California, while he is in this country later this year, the musical score to the heavily fictionalized account of the first missionary journey of Serra, Seven Cities of Gold (1955) seems appropriate.

In 1955 Hollywood told the story of the 1769 expedition to Alta California in the film Seven Cities of Gold.  Michael Rennie gave a very good performance as Father Serra and Anthony Quinn gave an equally fine performance as Governor Portolla.  Of course Hollywood could not remain completely faithful to history, and a fictional hunt for the Seven Cities of Cibola was given as the reason for the expedition.  A love story between an Indian girl and one of the Spanish officers was also grafted on to the story.  In spite of the usually Hollywood twisting of history, the film is accurate in its depiction of the goodness and charity of Father Serra and his zeal to spread the Gospel.  One scene from the movie has him denouncing the greed of the Spanish soldiers and their desire to exploit the Indians:

Continue reading...

2 Responses to Seven Cities of Gold

  • Mr. McClarey, As you can imagine the articles in the LA Times regarding Fr. Serra’s canoization are emphasizing the modern Indians’ negative reaction rather than the good the missionary did. Fr. Serra was a very accomplished man before he ever boarded a ship to the New World.
    Question: Why is the Pope waiving the second miracle in this cause and others?

  • “Question: Why is the Pope waiving the second miracle in this cause and others?”

    Eagerness to canonize people presumably.

    In regard to Father Serra he is above such criticisms. He was noted at the time for being mild and gentle to the Indians. By 18th Century standards he would have been regarded as perhaps overly indulgent to all he came in contact with. Modern controversies about him are just that, and have zero to do with the times in which he lived.

Apostle of California

Friday, January 16, AD 2015

(Apparently Pope Francis is going to canonize Father Serra during his visit to the US this year.  Finally!  Time to repost this post that ran in 2011.)



By the 18th Century Spain’s glory days were in her past, and her time as a great power was rapidly coming to an end.  It is therefore somewhat unusual that at this period in her history, Spain added to her vast colonial empire.  It would never have occurred but for the drive of one Spanish governor and the burning desire of a saint to spread the Gospel of Christ.

Miquel Josep Serra i Ferrer was born on the island of Majorca, the largest of the Balearic islands, off the Mediterranean coast of Spain on November 24, 1713.  From his youth he had a desire to join the Franciscans and on September 14, 1730 he entered the Order of Friars Minor, and took the name of Junipero after Saint Junipero, one of the closest companions of Saint Francis.  He had a sharp mind, and before his ordination to the priesthood was appointed lector of philosophy.  He would go on to earn a doctorate in philosophy from Lullian University and went on to occupy the Duns Scotus chair of philosophy there.  A quiet life teaching philosophy was his for the asking.  Instead, he went off to be a missionary in the New World in 1749.

His first assignment was to teach in Mexico City, but that was not why he had left the Old World.  At his request he was assigned to the Sierra Gorda Indian missions in Central Mexico as a mission priest, a task which occupied him  for the next nine years.

In 1768 he was appointed the head of 15 Franciscans in Baja California who were taking over Jesuit missions to the Indians there, following the suppression of the Jesuit Order.  It was in Baja California that he met the Governor of that province, Gaspar de Portola.

Continue reading...

3 Responses to Apostle of California

  • Pingback: The Art of Catholic Charity -
  • Hi Don:
    Very interesting. Didn’t know about this ‘Christians in the Movies” candidate. Only question regards his being born in Mallorca and your calling him Catalan like the governor . I guess his parents settled there after leaving Catalonia. Thanks for all your interesting posts.

  • (Don’s wife Cathy:) I always thought the Illes Balears (including Mallorca) were part of Catalunya (at least, that’s what I was taught by my mainland-Catalan profs in grad school). I have read some folktales and song lyrics written in Mallorqui dialect and, although there are a few regional differences from mainland Catalan, they don’t seem pronounced enough to qualify as a separate language. (More like distinctive regional dialects within English.) Of course, if a native of Mallorca would come to the combox and argue for Mallorcan independence from Catalunya, I certainly wouldn’t dare argue with that person!