The Journal of San Diego History
Winter 1992, Volume 38, Number 1
Richard W. Crawford, Editor

Book Review

Junipero Serra: A Pictorial Biography. By Martin J. Morgado. Monterey, California: Siempre Adelante Publishing, 1991. Illustrated. Index. 137 pages. $15.95 paper.

Reviewed by Ray Brandes, Professor of American West and Mexican American Studies, University of San Diego. Author of San Diego: An Illustrated History (1981) and Coronado: The Enchanted Island (1986).


The work by Martin Morgado is an interesting example of what the historian of this generation should be doing. Instead of answering questions, he approached his work by asking questions. His understanding of The Church, its artifacts, and the personality led him to search for direct links to the Franciscan, Junipero Serra. In the research to find objects which were in fact used by Father Serra, Morgado also found documentation that disproved “possessions” which Serra “touched, used and valued as the tools of his missionary ministry.”

The author is sensitive in his treatment of the Serra buildings and artifacts, providing an superb portrait of this blessed priest. The work is divided into chapters wherein Serra’s life is related. The chapter headings are: Majorca: 1713-1749; Mexico: 1749-1769; California 1769-1784; and Post-Mortem Narrative. Each chapter is followed by photographs which relate to Fr. Serra’s life. These include modern Petra, interiors of churches in Mexico, ruins of the Franciscan San Fernando de Velicata in Baja California, and the extant buildings with which he had some relationship in Alta California.

The author provided for contextual perspective, a biography of Serra based primarily on the Padre’s writings. Buildings and artifacts are set apart from him as independent works of art. Each photograph or sketch has been amplified with full explanations.

Photographs reflect the missions, and their various forms of art, as well as the process of steps documented to reach beatification in 1988, as well as explanation of steps required for sainthood. Footnotes for the text, and photographic credits are found at the end of the work, followed by an index which is extremely useful.

In 1769, when the patron ship of the first expedition to Alta California, the San Jose, left San Blas for San Diego, she was lost in the stormy waters off Lower California. Aboard the vessel were objects intended for Serra and the California missions. Those included consecrated altars, copper bells for the Mass, albs, amices, corporal cloths, purificators, silver baptism shells, censors, and three medium-sized bells for a church tower. Perhaps some of these earliest memorialized items bound for Father Serra’s first mission, will be recovered one day when the vessel’s location is determined.

This is an extremely beautiful publication. The design, the true color, and the typefaces reflect the work of a fine printer.