By David Kier
Co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’
The mission of San Ignacio de Kadakaamán was founded in 1728 by Padre Juan Bautista de Luyando as the 11th Spanish mission in California. San Ignacio was the northernmost mission for the next 23 years and today is the most northern Spanish mission in the state of Baja California Sur.
The site for San Ignacio was visited in 1716 by Jesuit Padre Francisco Maria Piccolo on an expedition from the mission at Mulegé. Piccolo had heard of a large settlement of Cochimí Indians and much fresh water at their home, called Kadakaamán. Once there, Piccolo found hundreds of natives awaiting conversion. Padre Piccolo named this place ‘San Vicente’, and that later would be changed with the founding of the mission. Padre Luyando and two soldiers first built a chapel and a house of sticks and reeds. Later those were replaced by larger rooms made of adobe and stone. Corn, wheat, olives, figs, sugar cane, pomegranate, cotton, Arabian date palms, and 500 grapevines were soon planted at San Ignacio. During Luyando’s final year at San Ignacio his grape vines produced the mission’s first vintage, 1733.
Many expeditions were launched out from San Ignacio in search of new mission sites. The most famous was in 1746 and led by Padre Fernando Consag to the Colorado River delta. This expedition finally put an end to the idea that California was an island. The next mission beyond San Ignacio was not founded until 1752. For many years it had existed on paper under the name ‘Dolores del Norte’ with hundreds of baptisms for it performed by Padre Consag, When a location, funds, and a Jesuit priest finally became available, the mission’s name was changed to Santa Gertrudis by request of the benefactor Don José de la Puente, the Marqués de Villapuente.
Flash floods were frequently responsible for agricultural losses, so the Jesuits had massive dikes built. The largest was called a ‘muralla’ and was three miles long, twelve feet high and up to forty feet wide. Protective dikes had been destroyed twice before this final one was completed, in 1762. Remains of the muralla are located just east of San Ignacio.
In 1765, Padre José Rotea discovered a skeleton he believed was of an 11 foot tall man at the mission visita of San Joaquín. This firmed up the legends he heard of ‘giants’ that lived on the peninsula before the Cochimí Indians. ‘Giants’ were the Cochimí explanation for how the high ceiling cave art sites near San Ignacio were painted.
All 16 of the Jesuits in California were removed from their stations and left the peninsula in February, 1768. The Franciscan Order was chosen to replace the Jesuits and arrived to take on their duties in April, 1768. Within a year, the Spanish government gave Franciscan President Junípero Serra the task to occupy ‘Nueva California’, the ‘new’ land to the north of the peninsula. Spain was concerned that Russia or England would advance upon it. After only 5 years on the peninsula (now called ‘Antigua California’), the Franciscans handed over mission duties to the Dominican Order of Preaching Friars, in 1773.
The beautiful cut stone church of San Ignacio, whose construction was started by the Jesuits, was completed in 1786 by the Dominican, Padre Juan Gómez. San Ignacio proved to be a very successful mission and remained open until 1840. The building continued on serving as a parish church for the new Mexican population. Today, the grand stone church is the center of the town of San Ignacio and faces the plaza.
David Kier is co-author of ‘The Old Missions of Baja & Alta California, 1697-1834’. The book is available for purchase HERE or at the DBTC offices (call 800-727-2252).