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Mission Santa Clara de Asís, shown in 2008
|Location||Palm Drive and Alviso Street intersection|
University of Santa Clara
Santa Clara, California 95053
|Name as founded||La Misión Santa Clara de Asís|
|English translation||The Mission of Saint Clare of Assisi|
|Founding date||January 12, 1777|
|Founding priest(s)||Father Presidente Junípero Serra|
|Bay Miwok, Tamyen, Yokuts|
|Native place name(s)||Socoisuka|
|Governing body||Santa Clara University; Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose|
|Current use||University of the chapel; Parish church|
Mission Santa Clara de Asís is a Spanish mission in the city of Santa Clara, California. The mission, which was the eighth in California, was founded on January 12, 1777 by the Franciscan order. Named for Saint Clare of Assisi, who founded the order of the Poor Clares and was an early companion of St. Francis of Assisi, this was the first California mission to be named in honor of a woman.
It is the namesake of both the city and county of Santa Clara, as well as of Santa Clara University, which was built around the mission. This is the only mission located on the grounds of a university campus. Although ruined and rebuilt six times, the settlement was never abandoned, and today it functions as the university chapel for Santa Clara University.
The outpost was originally established as La Misión Santa Clara de Thamien (or Mission Santa Clara de Thamien, a reference to the Tamyen people) at the Indian village of So-co-is-u-ka (meaning "Laurelwood", located on the Guadalupe River) on January 12, 1777. There the Franciscan brothers erected a cross and shelter for worship to bring Christianity to the Ohlone and Costanoan peoples. Floods, fires, and earthquakes damaged many of the early structures and forced relocation to higher ground. The second site is known as Mission Santa Clara de Asís. A subsequent site of the mission dating from 1784 to 1819 is located several hundred yards west of the De La Cruz overpass of the Caltrain track; moreover, several Native American burial sites have been discovered near this subsequent site. The current site, home to the first college in Alta California, dates back to 1828.
Initially, there was tension between the people of the mission and those in the nearby Pueblo de San Josè over disputed ownership rights of land and water. The tension was relieved when a road, the Alameda, was built by two hundred Indians to link the communities together. On Sundays, people from San Jose would come to the mission for services, until the building of St. Joseph's Church in 1803. In that year, the mission of Santa Clara reported an Indian population of 1,271. In the same tabular report, its resident priest estimated that 10,000 cattle, 9,500 sheep, 730 horses, 35 mules, and 55 swine were on mission lands, while about 3,000 fanegas of grain (some 220 pounds (100 kg) each of wheat, barley or corn) had been harvested.
After the Mexican secularization act of 1833 most of the mission's land and livestock was sold off by Mexico. The mission land was subdivided, and the land sold to whoever could afford it which often meant it was sold to government officials and with half of the mission land going to Native Americans. Most of the buildings continued to be used as a parish church, unlike the other missions in California. By 1836, the mission Native Americans were "freed" by the Mexican government. The local land near the mission had drastically changed in the 60 years of mission operation under the Spanish and many of the native plants needed for Native American survival were gone, requiring a change from the former lifestyle for many Native Americans. Many Native Americans fled to the Central Valley of California, others stayed locally and worked for the new ranchos. There were a few small and short-lived Native American villages established around the Bay Area by 1839; many of these villages could not support themselves, so they began raiding the nearby ranchos.
In 1850, California became a state. With that change, priests of the Jesuit order took over the Mission Santa Clara de Asís in 1851 from the Franciscans. Father John Nobili, S.J., was put in charge of the mission. He began a college on the mission site in 1851, which grew into Santa Clara University; it is the only mission to become part of a university, and it is also the oldest university in California. Throughout the history of the mission, the bells have rung faithfully every evening, a promise made to King Charles III of Spain when he sent the original bells to the mission in 1777. He asked that the bells be rung each evening at 8:30 in memory of those who had died, although the actual bells have since been replaced by a recording. The bell tower has three bells; one was donated by King Carlos IV but subsequently destroyed in a fire. King Alphonso XIII donated a replacement bell, which is on display in the de Saisset Museum (in the mission).
In 1861, a new wooden façade with two bell towers was attached over the old adobe front of the building. The interior was widened in 1885 to increase the seating capacity by removing the original adobe nave walls. A fire in 1925 destroyed the structure, including the surrounding wall. The church's parochial functions were transferred to the Saint Clare Parish west of the campus. A rebuilt and restored Mission Santa Clara was consecrated in 1929, when it assumed its primary modern function as chapel and centerpiece of the university campus. It is open to visitors daily; the mission museum is located in the university's De Saisset Museum. The original mission cemetery, still in use, is located on nearby Lincoln Street.
Santa Clara Mission Cemetery, also known as Santa Clara Catholic Cemetery, was founded in 1777, alongside the mission by the same Franciscans. In 1851, when Santa Clara College was founded, the cemetery near the mission was running out of space, so they moved the location a few minutes walk from the mission near the adobe home of Fernando Berryessa, son of Maria Zacharias Bernal y Berryessa.