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Art in Our City: Small Statue Marks Mission Site

Art in Our City: Small Statue Marks Mission Site
Art in Our City: Small Statue Marks Mission Site

There are plenty of interesting historical finds throughout the City of Santa Clara – from the houses featured on the annual home tour to the gems tucked away at City Hall and the Homestead library – but one of the most interesting might just be Memorial Cross Park at Martin Avenue and De La Cruz Boulevard.

The 14-foot high granite cross marks one of three mission compounds established by Fathers Thomas De La Pena and Jose Murguia on Jan. 12, 1777 according to a Jan. 15, 1953 article written by Reverend Henry L. Walsh, S.J.

“The exact location of this site remained very uncertain until Father James Colligan, SJ, stationed at Santa Clara College in 1920, interviewed Mr. George Bray, noted pioneer of the college town, who testified that in the year 1868 he saw the ruins of the old adobe walls of the originally church of 1777, situated in a sycamore grove, surrounded by a shallow swamp, about three-quarters of a mile west of the Guadalupe Creek, and about the same distance south of the cross which today marks the site of the old Spanish bridge just north of Bayshore Highway,” reads the article.

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Art in Our City: Small Statue Marks Mission Site

However, the exact location was disputed until 1962. “Two historical markers exist in Santa Clara silently arguing over which is the real second site of the famed Santa Clara Mission,” reads a May 23, 1962 Santa Clara Journal article. “…The marker now standing at Franklin Street and Campbell Avenue showing the site as the mission’s second is wrong, [Reverend Arthur Spearman, chairman of the Historical and Landmarks Commission] said.”

The article later details that, “Fr. Spearman said the original mission site just south of the Bayshore Freeway on the banks of the Guadalupe River was flooded out in 1779. An ‘interim’ mission, uncertain before Fr. Spearman’s research, was found to have been erected of logs ‘a musket shot’ from the flooded site. Further research places it about 1,300 feet away near the intersection of Martin Street and De La Cruz Boulevard…The actual third site on Campbell Street – now marked also as the second – was considered ‘permanent’ until it fell in 1819. The fourth and fifth sites are now together on the campus of the University of Santa Clara.” It was then ordered that Memorial Cross Park be noted as the official second site of the Santa Clara Mission.

Although the story of marking Mission Cross Park seemed to be quite simple, the plot of the park’s tale thickened when the three-foot high, 100-pound ceramic Saint Francis of Assisi statue – donated by resident Carmine P. Catello in 1961 – that sat in a recess of the wall behind the cross, was stolen Dec. 21, 1998. “The statue, placed there in 1961, showed St. Francis holding a rabbit and with a dog at his side,” reads a Jan. 9, 1999 San Jose Mercury News article. “St. Francis founded the Franciscan order, which built all 21 missions in California … Whoever took the statue had to work to remove it. Its 14-inch base was secured to its tiled alcove by sturdy epoxy.” At that time the police had no leads and the statue has since been replaced.

The cross marking the mission was donated by the Lions Club in 1953 and the cross was rededicated in a May 30, 1961 ceremony.

Mary Hanel, local history librarian at the Santa Clara Library, contributed to this article.

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