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Miwok leaders to join Mission San Rafael bicentennial

02 12.7.17_mission.SR painting PAGE02 12.7.17_mission.sr HALFMission San Rafael as it appears today and in a painting depicting the early Mission era. (Courtesy photos)

December 7, 2017
Christina Gray

When the parish community celebrates the bicentennial of Mission San Rafael Arcangel on Dec. 16, tribal representatives from the Coast Miwok tribe which built the mission and for whom it was built, will be central to the festivities.

Even before the mission bell is rung at 5 p.m. by Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus William J. Justice, principal celebrant of the anniversary Mass in St. Raphael Church, a tribal elder of Graton Rancheria – a federally recognized tribe of the Marin and Sonoma County Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Indians – will conduct a “blessing of the land” their ancestors called home.

In December 1817, more than 200 Coast Miwok accompanied by Presidio soldiers and four priests crossed the San Francisco Bay to build an “asistencia,” or hospital, for the native peoples ailing at Mission Dolores in San Francisco.

In “Chief Marin: Leader, Rebel and Legend” (Heydey Books, 2007), Marin County historian and parishioner Betty Goerke writes that “At Mission Dolores, Indians continued to die in horrifying numbers throughout 1817.”

It was believed the warmer, drier climate would be restorative physically and spiritually for the Coast Miwok. The mission outpost was named after Saint Raphael the Arcangel, whose name means “God heals.”

The governor at the time also hoped the new mission would also “put some distance” between the Coast Miwok and the soldiers at the San Francisco Presidio, who some thought were responsible for the spread of disease among the neophytes, Goerke writes.

As the travelers stepped onto dry land, their activities likely attracted not only Coast Miwok converts who had been sent there earlier for their health, but also nonmission Indians and runaways.

“Indians from Coast Miwok Rancherias as far away as Tomales Bay had come to San Rafael for the first celebration of Mass,” she said.

Baptismal records show that 26 Coast Miwok children were baptized at the first Mass Dec. 14, 1817.

Mission San Rafael Arcangel was raised to full mission status in 1822 and is the 20th of 21 missions founded by the Spanish in Alta California between 1769 and 1823. All of the original structures are gone. The instantly recognizable pink St. Raphael Church was built in 1920 and a replica of the old Mission built in 1949 is used as a smaller chapel.

It was only a mission for 17 years, but in that time, according to the parish website, Mission San Rafael converted 1,873 “Indians.”

After a 3:30 p.m. procession through San Rafael, the 200th anniversary inaugural ceremony in the mission plaza will offer a historical narrative of the mission and honor the native people who lived, died and were buried there. Native Americans will also present a gift at the Mass.

Ten years ago during the mission’s 190th anniversary Mass, Sacramento Bishop Emeritus Francis A. Quinn made a stunning apology to the Miwok people on behalf of the Catholic Church, bringing many in attendance to tears according to reports.

Bishop Quinn said the missionaries “took the Indian out of the Indian.” He said the Indians had a civilization of their own – one that valued all of nature – long before the Spanish imposed an alien, European-type life upon them. He also conceded that mission soldiers and priests had sexual relations with Indian women and inflicted cruel punishments on those who disobeyed mission laws.   After the Mass, Greg Sarris, who heads the Miwok tribal council, spoke at a gathering in the St. Raphael’s school gym.  “With the permission of my people,” he said, “I accept your apology.”

Visit saintraphael.com for more information about the bicentennial celebration.

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