Images of Saint Junipero Serra in San Diego.

Molded plaster figure of newly canonized Saint Junipero Serra at top of the California Building’s facade in Balboa Park.
Molded plaster figure of Saint Junipero Serra at top of the California Building’s facade in Balboa Park.  The Museum of Man occupies this landmark building.  The ornate facade contains many sculpted historical figures and busts created by the Piccirilli brothers, famous marble carvers who immigrated from Italy in 1888.

Today, during Pope Francis’ historic first visit to the United States, Junipero Serra was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. Father Serra was declared a saint by the Holy See at a ceremony conducted by Pope Francis at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Saint Junipero Serra played a large role in San Diego’s early history. The Franciscan friar established the first nine of 21 Roman Catholic Spanish missions in what today is California.  The very first of those nine, founded on July 16, 1769, was located in San Diego. The primary purpose of the missions was to convert the native peoples to Christianity; another purpose was to solidify a claim over this valuable corner of the New World for Spain.

The Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá is located in Mission Valley and remains to this day an active church. It’s popularity as a destination for tourists and the faithful will likely increase with the canonization of Serra.

Because of Saint Junipero Serra’s historical importance in San Diego, many images of him are found throughout our city. Some of the most prominent and well known representations can be seen in Balboa Park. The park’s Spanish Colonial Revival Style buildings created for the 1915 Panama-California Exposition include lavish ornamentation, with many illustrations of people and scenes important to San Diego history.

The following notable bits of art in Balboa Park depict Saint Junipero Serra during his time in San Diego.

Ornamental art on Balboa Park's Casa del Prado depicts Saint Junipero Serra holding a cross among Spanish soldiers and native peoples in what today is California.
Ornamental art on Balboa Park’s Casa del Prado shows Saint Junipero Serra holding a cross among Spanish soldiers and native peoples in what today is California.  In 1769, San Diego was part of Alta California in the Province of Las Californias in New Spain.
More artwork seen from Balboa Park's historic El Prado shows Franciscan friar on a horse near the Roman Catholic Mission San Diego de Alcalá, which was founded in 1769.
More artwork seen on Balboa Park’s historic El Prado shows Franciscan friar on a horse near the Mission San Diego de Alcalá, which was built near the San Diego River, several miles inland from San Diego Bay.
Junipero Serra Memorial, created 1914. Staff plaster original ornamentation from the Food Products Building, of the Panama-California Exposition. Now located in the Sculpture Court.
Junipero Serra Memorial, created in 1914. Staff plaster original ornamentation from the Food Products Building, of the Panama-California Exposition. This elegant work of art was preserved and is now located in the Casa del Prado’s Sculpture Court.

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Richard Schulte

Downtown San Diego has been my home for many years. My online activities reflect my love for writing, blogging, walking and photography.

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