Scented Soil: San Jose Mission (1730–1840)

Scented Soil: San Jose Mission (1730–1840)


…Keep on dancing in the mud, my children, many bricks are missing to finish the store, and hurry the oxen and the wagons and fix the way down to the quarry; we will continue stoking the brick kilns to start the vault…

In 1730, Nicholas Tamaral arrived either by sea or by land at a place on the coast where there was fresh water; perhaps an oasis or a stream. Looking for a location with suitable conditions, he found a place on a hill with a breathtaking view where he decided to establish the mission. In 1734, he was martyred by the rebellion of indigenous people. The building was destroyed to some extent and abandoned. The region became a visit for missionaries who came at times to celebrate Mass and continue the evangelization. The spiritual conquest ended in 1840 with the abandonment of the missions in Southern California.

We know the Ceseña family was the owner of the site where the original San Jose Mission was founded. This area is now known as San Jose Viejo. Don Ramon Talamantes Ceseña acquired the property in 1840 to raise his family. According to the records held by the San Jose del Cabo parish, Don Ramon married Rosario Castro Ojeda on July 25, 1841. The ceremony was officiated by Father Jose Santa Cruz.

Don Ramon was born in 1814 and died at the age of 87 on October 16, 1901 according to his death certificate. Six generations have now passed. Over the course of more than 150 years, many mysteries must surely remain in the history of this place.

Francisco Ceseña, 77 years and Esther Ceseña 75 years, brothers who currently reside there, affably told us various anecdotes related to the mission.

Francisco tells us … The house on the hill, the house of Don Ramon Ceseña and Talamantes, was built on the foundation of the old mission. It bothered the indigenous people, they were envious, and did not want to receive the teaching of the missionaries. The discord began and a group of rebels decided to eliminate the missionary. No one knows where they killed him, but it is believed to be right here. The Indians destroyed the church.

Jesuit Father Miguel Venegas described the event in his book News from California about the worldly and spiritual conquest and published in Madrid in 1757…

“Father Carranco had sent an escort of neophyte natives of San Jose to go with Father Tamaral to Santiago. On their return trip, the emissaries became allied with the conspirators… they arrived back at the Mission on October 1, 1734. Knowing that Father Carranco was alone because the two soldiers had gone to the country to bring two cattle for slaughter, they entered his room, forced him out and killed him with arrows and stones along with the boy who served him. When the soldiers who had gone for the cattle returned, they were killed in the same way. The conspirators made a pyre with wood and objects of worship taken from the church and threw the four bodies on the fire. The rebels then went to the San Jose del Cabo Mission, where they arrived on October 3, killing Father Tamaral in a similar way to what was done in Santiago to Father Carranco.”

The brothers Francisco and Esther Ceseña say their ancestors spoke about part of a gold bell taken from the land, but it was never seen again; it might had been given to a doctor during the early times.

I got to see the foundation of the mission of approximately 20 to 30 meters, and some other debris from the walls. My grandfather, Aron, told us that surely his Father Don Ramon had taken the remains of the foundation to build the house. It was 2002 when the roof of the house was changed to concrete, the walls remain the same and are made of adobe.

Ignacio Tirsh, Jesuit priest from Bohemia, came to California in 1761 to join the evangelization effort in northwestern New Spain. He was interested in the history of the area and the world in which ancient Californians lived. He sketched what he saw on his constant travels. The Jesuit was an amateur in what today is known as natural history. His drawings match the types of buildings like the house on the hill and is another element to consider in the assertion that this location was truly the spot where the original San Jose Mission was built.

For further consideration, an expedition was mounted in 1769 to view the passage of the planet Venus. The telescope was installed in a barn located in the ruins of the mission. This may well have been because the location is one of the highest elevations in the region.

The desire for collective and mythological fantasy, as well as literature that was popular at the time was largely responsible for the colonization of the lands and ports in these locations. They would later give birth to another legend — that this wild and rugged land of indomitable character could not be conquered. The scented land, the land of great mysteries, is a wonderful place and so enigmatic that even its origin was born from a poem… Land of missions, mysteries and perfumes.

Marquis McDonald Photography provided by the Ceseña brothers.


The characteristics of this house can be compared with the architectural elements of the missionary establishments of the time, which remain to this day in religious buildings in Baja California Sur.

The cloister was located at the right side of the sanctuary with chapter room services, a kitchen, stables, dormitories, library, and a well in the middle.

The atrium in front of the church consisted of a large square in the center usually with a cross.

The chapel pauses, named for the way processions stopped before them, were small chapels often built in the four corners of the churchyard.

The open chapel, known as the “Indians chapel,” was commonly located next to the monastery sanctuary, which was a separate building, or integrated into the cloister.

Dr. José Martín Olmos Ceseña