By David Kier
Co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’
Having heard of an Indian settlement called ‘La Vigge’ hidden away amid a circle of virtually impassable mountains, Padre Francisco María Piccolo forced his way from Loreto up through rocky arroyos and precipitous passes until he reached the site. The trek was arduous indeed. Thinking the settlement’s name was “La Vigge,” which to the Indians meant “mountain,” each time he came upon a new group of Indians and inquired of the way to La Vigge, they would send him off to a new series of mountain peaks. Having arrived at last, he founded Mission San Francisco Javier de Biaundo on May 11, 1699, about five miles north of the present mission, developed later by Padre Ugarte.
During the drought that occurred around the year 1710, the original mission headquarters was obliged to move to a nearby visiting station and farm of ‘San Pablo‘, a location that turned out to be so promising that when Padre Ugarte came to replace Padre Piccolo, he moved the mission there. Costing over a million pesos — gained from profits of pearl fisheries supposedly discouraged by the Jesuits — the ambitious new mission was endowed with a belfry, spires, and altars that required many years of construction. The church was built from 1744 to 1758, and remains as the finest preserved stone mission in Baja California. Cut in stone above the lintels of the door is the date 1751. Today it is the most architecturally impressive mission on the Peninsula, and remains in good condition.
Spectacular black lava cliffs rise hundreds of feet behind it, casting the mission’s white Moorish domes and bell tower into stark relief. To the north, east, and west, great double doorways open into the mission. Within its vaulted interior, light filters through the peninsula’s first stained glass windows, falling upon three gold-leaf altars shipped from Mexico and reassembled. Dominating the main altar is a statue of San Francisco Javier, surrounded by eight life-size valuable oil paintings. A spiral staircase reaches the choir loft. There presently are three bells in the tower, two dated 1761 and a third 1803. It is interesting that an early Jesuit description of this mission endowed it with eight bells, more than other missions.
Thus, Mission San Francisco Javier reached a high degree of prosperity. Padre Ugarte ruled harshly, but he built well. Of all the peninsula missions, this one is the most rewarding. To read about the founding of the other California missions, see ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’ by Max Kurillo, Erline Tuttle and David Kier.