multiple statues of St. Junipero Serra / various

Recent years have seen a string of incidents involving statues of the Catholic St. Junipero Serra installed throughout California. Among them:

1. In September 2015, a statue at the Santa Cruz Mission was spraypainted with the word “genocide” across Serra’s chest. The inscription was eventually removed, with no lingering damage to the work.

2. In October 2015, unknown parties used a sledgehammer to behead a marble statue set in the Lower Presidio Historic Park in Monterey. The head was discovered about six months later in a tide pool at Breakwater Cove, not far from where its body still stood. The head was eventually reattached.

3. In August 2017, a statue set in a park across from Mission San Fernando was spraypainted, with “MURDER” inscribed across Serra’s chest, and a swastika on the child standing next to him. The graffiti was promptly removed, with no lingering damage to the work. 

4. In August 2017, a statue was toppled in the courtyard of the Carmel Mission, where the saint is buried under the sanctuary. (An indigenous peoples cemetery also resides on the grounds.) The unidentified vandals also splattered paint on the courtyard fountain and the doors of the cathedral, and desecrated numerous graves.

5. In September 2017, a bronze statue at the Old Santa Barbara Mission was decapitated and doused with red paint. The sculpture was covered with a tarp; it’s not currently clear whether the damage was repairable. 

While no parties have been arrested, and no explanations given, it’s widely believed that the attacks are acts of political protest against Serra’s canonization in September 2015. Critics have argued that Serra, an 18th-century Franciscan friar who founded nine of California’s 21 missions, unfairly treated Native Americans, forcing them convert while relinquishing their traditions, customs, dress, and language. “To many Native Americans and others, Serra is a symbol of the mission system’s oppression. Converted natives were kept separate from those who had not embraced Christianity, and some missions flogged and imprisoned those who tried to leave.” 

Christopher Schreck