A Visit to the Home of California’s First Martyr
January 1, 1989
During a recent sojourn on the island of Majorca I had the opportunity to visit the home town of Fray Luis Jayme (Lluis Jaume as he was known on his native isle) who was killed in an Indian uprising at Mission San Diego in 1775. I was accompanied by Bartolomé Font Obrador, a historian fascinated by Majorca’s contribution to the early history of California who has visited San Diego on a number of occasions. We are collaborating on a book, and we were visiting those sites associated with Fray Junípero Serra and his Majorcan companions and otherwise absorbing the Majorca that tourists never see. Rain fell intermittently throughout that day and intensified the brilliant green of the fields filled with newly sprouted grain, fava beans, and other local crops. Except for the pears the fruit trees had finished blooming, but there were wild flowers in abundance, yellow daisies and wild mustard, blue borage, red poppies, and the white and pink spikes of the ubiquitous and odoriferous asphodel.
The morning was spent visiting old farmhouses in the region of Llucmajor: Sa Torre, once magnificent with its huge defense tower and grand neo-Gothic family burial chapel, now semi-abandoned and falling to pieces; Cas Frares which had once belonged to the Carthusian monks of Valldemossa was more modest but was kept with loving care, and one could see the old grain mill which had been turned by mule-power, and the curing room hung with the traditional sobrasada. The kitchen still had its stone sink and hood over the cooking area and in a bedroom there were delicate painted decorations in neoclassical taste. At Son Noguera, once belonging to Augustinian monks, peacocks and other barnyard fowl competed noisily with numerous chained dogs, while the old chapel had its painted decorations covered by whitewash and had been turned into a place to store grain. Still the old kitchen was intact even though a gas stove and television set reminded one that the late twentieth century had made its inroads.
We made a brief stop in Llucmajor, the town of Fray Gerónimo Boscana who wrote Chinigchinich, an account of the religion of the native peoples where Mission San Juan Capistrano was established. It was also the hometown of Font Obrador himself who is writing a multivolumed history of that rather small town in astonishing detail. We had coffee and a brief visit to the impressive neoclassical church, then continued on through the fertile countryside around the mountain of Randa, the preferred refuge of the great Majorcan philosopher Ramon Llull. He came to be called Blessed centuries ago, but no miracles have come to raise him to sainthood. At the foot of this mountain is Castellitx which contains what is perhaps the oldest surviving intact church on the island.
After all of this lunch was in order and we stopped at a roadside inn called Ca’l Dimoni (House of the Devil) where we dined on local sausage and grilled pork chops before we moved on to the town of Algaida. The local church has one of the finest altarpieces on the whole island of Majorca. The pastor, Father Gili, who took us around spoke a mile a minute whether in Spanish to me or in Mallorquín to Font Obrador; on occasion he forgot to switch and addressed me in Mallorquín which I struggled to understand. In this town lived Padre Por, a Jesuit who in his early days studied with Fray Junípero Serra; Father Gili had written a small biography of him, and he presented a copy to me.
Next came the hill town of Montuiri, one of the many places where Serra preached. By then the rain had stopped and the sun had come out and we finally came to the village of Sant Joan (San Juan) where we were greeted by the statue of Fray Luis Jayme on top of the Centre Catòlic. He held a cross in his right hand and the palm of martyrdom in his left. Unfortunately he must now compete with a television aerial, and I was hard put to photograph his statue without that. Nearby is what is left of the parish church he knew, a fine Gothic side portal and the belltower with its pyramidal spire. Between these is a rough stone monolith which commemorates the bicentenary of his martyrdom.
The modest church had been supplanted in 1936 by a much larger and grander one. Although the facade resembles those found elsewhere on the island the interior of the new church is not typical. The plan is that of a basilica, something quite rare on the island, and it has a flat coffered ceiling which is clearly modeled after that of another church of Saint John, Saint John in the Lateran in Rome. As in that church statues of the twelve Apostles line the sides, though here they are placed at the gallery level. In place of the usual grand altarpiece there is a huge mural composition of saints combined with contemporary personages, including the Generalísimo Franco. Fortunately the side altars of the primitive church were moved here, and there are many which could have been known to Father Jayme. The font where he was baptized has been reproduced from an old engraving. The most moving reminder of Father Jayme, though, is the painting of his martyrdom now hanging in the sacristy which was one of several which were painted in Mexico and sent from the College of San Fernando in Mexico City to his homeland.
On a hill outside of town is the charming sanctuary of Our Lady of Consolation which was dear to Father Jayme. It is a little chapel containing a small image of the Virgin and Child which is said to have been found in the cleft of a tree by a shepherd. This image is enshrined in an elegant gilded altarpiece, and there are a number of fine works of art displayed on the side walls of the chapel. Most notable are a painting of Saint Peter as pope in a gilded frame with peculiar Majorcan mermaid angels and a painting of the Virgin and Child with Saint Dominic Soriano with a curious border of angels with fruits and flowers which include a plugged watermelon and a cantaloupe being cut open. These works come from the church of Santo Domingo in Palma which was demolished over a century ago after the suppression of the hated Holy Inquisition which had its Majorcan headquarters there.
On the front of a house in town a plaque marks the supposed birthplace of Father Jayme. The inscription, in Catalán, says “According to tradition this was the ancestral home of Fr. Luis Jayme, zealous defender of Chirst who, during the apostolic task of conversion of the gentiles, cruelly received a painful martyrdom at the hands of Indians in Upper California (1740-1775)”. Catalán is now the official language of the Balearic Islands, but the inhabitants speak the Majorcan dialect, Mallorquín. Although there is already a body of printed literature in the language, including a Life of Serra published recently by Font Obrador, no dictionary of it seems to be available, though the differences between it and the mother language Catalán are more than minor. My Spanish is quite functional, if not exactly perfect, and I can read Catalán without too much difficulty, but when I hear Mallorquín I am frustrated because I catch only part of it, and I can’t speak it at all. As I hear it I wonder how the non-Catalán and non-Mallorquín speaking missionaries felt when they heard the language spoken by that elite group of Majorcans in California. Finally, did Father Jayme, at the moment of his martyrdom say “Amar a Dios, hijos” as we are told, or did he revert to his mother tongue and really say “Amin a Deu, fills”?
Norman Neuerberg is Professor Emeritus of Art History, California State University, Dominguez Hills and a noted authority on the California missions. Photographs are by the author.