The Journal of San Diego History
Fall 1988, Volume 34, Number 4
Thomas L. Scharf, Editor

Book Review

Raymond Starr, Book Review Editor

Junípero Serra’s Legacy.

By Martin J. Morgado. Pacific Grove: Mount Carmel Publishers, 1987. Bibliography. Illustrations. Notes. Index. Maps. 251 Pages. $33.95.

Reviewed by Eleanor A. Neely, Director of Education, Junípero Serra Museum, San Diego History Center.

Because of his skill in presenting documented fact and detail, Martin Morgado has provided the reader with a cache of information regarding the largest collection of original Serrana. Junípero Serra’s Legacy is a source of enjoyment for both the casual reader and student.

The book contains over one hundred beautiful illustrations of Serra’s possessions which are still in existence today. These possessions, as explained by Morgado, “refer only to what Serra used, touched, and valued, as the ‘tools’ of his missionary ministry.” Since Serra was bound by the vow of poverty, these “tools” were actually possessions of the Church and not of Serra himself. To provide more significant meaning for their use, Morgado has effectively woven Serra’s biography in with their description. The book is a wonderful piece of resource material for the non-Catholic who is interested in knowing about the mysterious significance of the terminology and objects used in the traditional practice of Roman Catholicism. Since religious practice was as important to the lives of many of California’s early settlers as physical subsistence, the author has included, historical facts, lists of individuals, and definitions of terms regarding Catholic tradition and dogma. The glossary is made more useful because it is keyed to the illustrations and maps in the book.

The treatment of fact is very thorough. The author not only provides basic information about person, place or thing, but explains in detail the origin of terms and how they applied to Serra and his ministry in the New World. One example is the explanation of the “reredos” of the Mission Carmel Basilica. The entry includes origin of the term, size of the object, a history of its use at the Mission and Harry Downie’s efforts in restoration and designing the present 1956 version. A key providing a detailed description of the altarpiece is included. The descriptive illustration comes close to a guided walking tour of the artifact.

It is unfortunate that information about San Diego is very brief. Its role is presented as a physical link between Monterey and significant southern sites. But it stands to reason that the focus of attention is Monterey and Mission San Carlos, since this was Serra’s headquarters (1770-1784) and the location of his material legacy.

The reviewer must admit that the book was a great surprise. I had expected a posh work on Serra that would only serve to grace coffee tables in homes and prestigious reception rooms; instead I discovered a treasure that will also serve well in my library of reference material.