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“Our Lady of the Galleons,” Mexico, late 18th century, from Mission Dolores, depicts the Madonna and Child coming ashore in San Francisco Bay with Spanish trading ships behind them.

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USF exhibit showcases Spanish, Asian influence on Mission arts
September 15th, 2010
By Valerie Schmalz

A Japanese dictionary printed in Mexico City during the time of the California Missions. A painting of a Madonna, with the clothing of Our Lady of Guadalupe but with Chinese features. A Chumash basket woven with a Spanish coat of arms. Chinese silk vestments. Bits of Ming China rescued by Native Americans after a Spanish galleon crashed off Point Reyes in 1595 and used as tools and incorporated into native artwork.

The artifacts and art on display at the Thacher Gallery in the Gleeson Library at the University of San Francisco illustrate in subtle ways that East and West met from the very beginnings of the Spanish settlements in what are now California, Mexico and Central America. They also paint a colorful picture of the story of the Spanish exploration of the Western hemisphere and the often overlooked Asian influence on the era. The exhibit, “Galleons and Globalization: California Mission Arts and the Pacific Rim,” spans the 16th to 19th centuries, when the Spanish influence predominated. It is free to visitors and open during library hours, seven days a week.

“Then as now, the whole world ended up in California,” said museum curator Jesuit Father Thomas Lucas, USF professor of art and architecture. “Drawing from trade documents, historical accounts, early maps, and local lore, the exhibition speaks to the pluralism that defines what it means to be Californian.”

The exhibit presents more than 125 objects that exemplify the cultural interchange among missions in the Philippines, Macau, China, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Paraguay, Baja and Alta California. It includes artifacts from four sunken ships: the wreck of the galleon “San Diego” outside Manila Harbor (1600) and three North American sites, including that of the “San Agustin” that broke up at Point Reyes in 1595. The artifacts are on loan from the California Missions and 32 museums and private collections.

Beginning in 1565, galleons crossed the Pacific from Acapulco to the Spanish possession of the Philippines, carrying silver from Mexico. The wealth was used to purchase Asian goods such as spices, silk and porcelain. These were carried back by the large trading ships, with a series of explorations for better trade routes also taking the ships along the California coast. The Far East goods, once they arrived in Acapulco, were transported across Mexico for shipment to Spain, where they provided essential revenue to the Spanish crown and economy. But goods also remained in Mexico, Peru and Alta California and furnished homes, churches and cities in the New World.

While the California Missions were generally built by the Franciscans, led by Blessed Father Junipero Serra, the first missionaries to New Spain were Jesuit. The first mission was established in Baja California in 1683 by the Jesuits. The first California mission was established in 1769 in San Diego. Misión San Francisco de Asís or Mission Dolores was founded in 1776 in San Francisco by Blessed Father Serra.

The exhibit is complemented by an extensive display of imprints from Japan, China, the Philippines, Mexico, and Peru on display in USF’s Donohue Rare Book Room. A scholarly conference, “Legacies of the Book: Early Missionary Printing in Asia and the Americas” will take place September 24-26, 2010.

The exhibit coincides with the 400th anniversary of the death of Jesuit Father Matteo Ricci, whose outreach and evangelization to China opened that country to Christianity. The exhibit also emphasizes Jesuits’ missionary work in Japan and China as well as the Americas. The interplay is highlighted by artifacts such as a Japanese language dictionary printed in Mexico City that “points to the Jesuits profound interest in engaging cultures other than their own not only for evangelization but to learn from their contacts about the world,” Father Lucas said.

“What the Jesuits did better than anyone else is they engaged the cultures they found. They engaged at high levels,” said Father Lucas, noting that Father Ricci translated Confucius into Latin and Euclid into Mandarin. “He was able to reach the very highest level of culture, which of course the Chinese appreciated.”

The Church opened Father Ricci’s cause for sainthood in January of this year. Because Father Ricci drew parallels between Chinese concepts of God and Christianity, learned Chinese and accepted much of Chinese culture living in Imperial China, he was controversial for centuries. However, Pope Benedict XVI said in May that Father Ricci was a “singular case” among missionaries in the history of the Church for his capacity to proclaim the Gospel and promote dialogue between cultures. Pope Benedict XVI called the era of Father Ricci and his disciples “one of the highest and happiest points in relations between China and the West.”

Dual sainthood cause for Father Ricci, Chinese collaborator

The Chinese province of the Society of Jesus hopes that Father Matteo Ricci, the pioneering Italian Jesuit missioner to China, and his Chinese collaborator Paul Xu Guangqi can be canonized together.

This is not only in line with the modern Church’s trend of cooperation between priests and lay people, but would also encourage young Chinese men to think of a religious vocation and perhaps even join the Jesuits, said Father Louis Gendron, the provincial.

“It is a rare thing in Church history for a foreign missioner and his local collaborator to be proclaimed confessor saints together,” said the American priest.

The Jesuit Chinese province began helping the Holy See with the sainthood cause of Father Ricci (1552-1610) in early May. His native Macerata diocese in Italy re-launched the process in January after it had lost some impetus following the initial phase concluded in 1985.

Shanghai diocese, the birthplace of Xu (1562-1633), plans to start the sainthood cause for the Ming imperial official and has urged local Catholics to pray for this.

To mark the 400th death anniversary of Father Ricci, the Chinese province has also printed prayers for the priest’s sainthood cause and for vocations to the Jesuit order.

Union of Catholic Asian News

From September 17, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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