The Old Franciscan Missions Of California eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 227 pages of information about The Old Franciscan Missions Of California.
while the fathers understood well the principles of architecture and created a natural, spontaneous style, meeting all obstacles of time and place which presented themselves, they showed little skill in matters of interior decoration, possessing neither originality in design, the taste which would have enabled them to become good copyists, nor yet the slightest appreciation of color-harmony.  In making this criticism, I do not overlook the difficulties in the way of the missionaries, or the insufficiency of materials at command.  The priests were as much hampered in this work as they were in that of building.  But, in the one case, they met with brilliant success; in the other they failed.  The decorations have, therefore, a distinctly pathetic quality.  They show a most earnest endeavor to beautify what to those who wrought them was the very house of God.  Here mystically dwelt the very body, blood, and reality of the Object of Worship.  Hence the desire to glorify the dwelling-place of their God, and their own temple.  The great distance in this case between desire and performance is what makes the result pathetic.  Instead of trusting to themselves, or reverting to first principles, as they did in architecture, the missionaries endeavored to reproduce from memory the ornaments with which they had been familiar in their early days in Spain.  They remembered decorations in Catalonia, Cantabria, Mallorca, Burgos, Valencia, and sought to imitate them; having neither exactitude nor artistic qualities to fit them for their task.  No amount of kindliness can soften this decision.  The results are to be regretted; for I am satisfied that, had the fathers trusted to themselves, or sought for simple nature-inspirations, they would have given us decorations as admirable as their architecture.  What I am anxious to emphasize in this criticism is the principle involved.  Instead of originating or relying upon nature, they copied without intelligence.  The rude brick, adobe, or rubble work, left in the rough, or plastered and whitewashed, would have been preferable to their unmeaning patches of color.  In the one, there would have been rugged strength to admire; in the other there exists only pretense to condemn.

[Illustration:  THE OLD ALTAR AT THE CHAPEL OF SAN ANTONIO DE PALA.  Showing original wall decorations prized by the Indians.]


After this criticism was written I asked for the opinion of the learned and courteous Father Zephyrin, the Franciscan historian.  In reply the following letter was received, which so clearly gives another side to the matter that I am glad to quote it entire: 

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The Old Franciscan Missions Of California from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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