"In the Midst of a Loneliness":
The Architectural History of the Salinas Missions
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The Franciscan missionary adapted the plan of the mission church and convento from the monastic tradition of Europe to meet his needs in the New World. Each generation of mission buildings constructed as the mission effort moved north towards the American Southwest established other traditions to draw from. His experience in the activities that formed the cycle of days and years in the church he attended as a child, the mission where he was trained, and other missions he visited, molded the ideal plan in the mind of a friar into a particular shape, that influenced what he built at the site of his new mission. The complete structure and the activities that took place within it were interactive: each influenced the other and changed the other. To understand the plan of a mission, some familiarity with mission life is necessary.

Spanish Franciscan establishments formed a network that covered most of the Western Hemisphere from South America to the American Southeast and Southwest. The Salinas missions were a part of this network and received a great deal of support from it in the form of supplies and personnel. The support was, however, only enough for the minimum operation of the mission. The executives of the Franciscan network expected each mission to contribute to its own support as much as it could, and New Mexico missions purchased many necessities and luxury items with the income from the sale of their surplus corn, sheep, cattle, and woven goods, and the hides, nuts, and salt that the Indians collected under the direction of the missionaries.


The trade to and from a mission was an important part of its life. It influenced the planning, construction, activities in, and changes to the church and convento throughout the existence of the mission. The trade relationship between each mission and the world around it was therefore a significant part of its structural history.

The Supply Trains

The wagon train provided the vital link between the missions and civil settlements of New Mexico and the supply and trade centers of New Spain. The Franciscans established the train in order to supply the missions, but the regular, well-protected service attracted the interest of merchants and civil authorities, who soon began sending private wagons along on the trips to supplement their own wagon trains. Without this link, the mission system of New Mexico would have collapsed, probably bringing down the civil settlement with it.

The availability or lack of various items from the supply trains directly affected operations at the Salinas missions. Because the wagon trains were so necessary for the survival of the missions, the Franciscans operated them with great efficiency. During the active life of the Salinas missions, ca. 1622 to ca. 1677, the supply system was dependable, arriving on time at precise three-year intervals. [1]

In 1631, the Franciscans and the government of New Spain arranged a contract standardizing the arrangements for the supply trains to New Mexico. The contract clearly described the typical caravan and the usual procedure followed by the supply system. The assembly of a supply train began with an official letter brought by the wagons returning from New Mexico, outlining the needs of the missionaries for the upcoming triennium. To this the Franciscans in Mexico City added the requirements of any new missionaries to be sent with the next dispatch, including both the supplies for the journey and the initial goods needed to establish a mission. The necessary goods were then purchased from local suppliers in Mexico City. [2]

Prior to 1631, an agent of the Viceroy purchased the supplies at auction as they became available and turned these over to the Franciscans. The vagaries of this system resulted in delays and uncertainties, however, which contributed to occasional four-year intervals between dispatches. Worse, the supplies were frequently not of good quality and the cost was sometimes excessive.

The contract of 1631 changed this arrangement. The Viceregal Treasury transferred the total budget due the New Mexico missions to the Franciscan Procurador-General, who then arranged for the purchase of goods from merchants and suppliers, usually in Mexico City. This method allowed the goods to be purchased in a timely manner and at minimum cost. Additionally, the Treasury would purchase and outfit the necessary wagons, including all spare parts, hire the drivers, guards, and other necessary personnel, and cover the expenses of their upkeep during the journey to and from New Mexico. In return, the Franciscans agreed to pay for the upkeep of the wagons and personnel during the time they were in New Mexico, and to keep up the full complement of mules for each wagon. After the return of the supply train to Mexico City, the government agreed to maintain the wagons and mules during the year and a half until the next dispatch, but reserved the right to use them as needed during this period.

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Last Updated: 28-Aug-2006