Serra’s First Mass: Monument and Poem

 

James A. Murray was passionate about preserving the location and history of Serra’s first mass in Northern California. He commissioned a large granite shaft to mark the location – using famed sculptor Douglas Tilden to capture Serra’s profile and the Carmel Mission. He acquired Leon Trousset’s First Landing and allowed it to be printed in promotional pamphlets for the region, and his wife commissioned a poem by Mary Sullivan Spence to capture the history and present of the oak that presided over centuries of history. It was also his wife who likely donated the Trousset to the Carmel Mission in 1922, a year after Murray’s passing.

Below is a transcription of Spence’s poem, accompanied by a postcard and photos of Murray’s monument and painting.

 

 


The Passing of an Oak

By Mary Sullivan Spence

Passing of an Oak

Paul Elder & Company

Publishers – San Francisco


FOREWORD

CLOSE TO THE MONTEREY SEA-SHORE, ON THE HIGH ROAD BETWEEN MONTEREY & PACIFIC GROVE, A LITTLE WEATHER-BEATEN OAK STOOD FOR A CENTURY & A HALF; RENOWNED IN CALIFORNIA’S HISTORY AS THE TREE UNDER WHICH FATHER JUNIPERO SERRA LANDED AND SAID MASS. AS IT WAS ATTACKED BY THE ENGRAVING-BEETLE, ITS DECAY NECESSITATED ITS REMOVAL THREE YEARS AGO. A STONE SHAFT, ERECTED BY MR. JAMES A. MURRAY OF MONTANA & ALSO OF MONTEREY, MARKS THE SPOT WHERE IT ONCE STOOD.


 

It was but a wistful thing,

It was but a little tree,

Sad with much remembering,

Old and wind-bent near the sea;

In a sheltering hollow set,

Out of touch with worldly fret

And the stress of years to be;

Gulls wheel near the lone retreat–

Near-by breezes seaward urge

White sails of the fishing fleet–

Not a stone’s throw from the verge,

Barrack’s-road and village meet,

Where the guarding sentry’s gun

Glints beneath the moon and sun,

At the foot of road which winds

To the hill o’erhead, and finds

Monterey’s Presidio spread,

Listening to the bold Bay’s tread.

 

Years agone the dust soared high

When flashed by the steed of Don,

Or Vaquero galloped by,

And the ox-cart rumbled on–

These the gray Oak gazed upon:

Gobernadores sought the shade,

Riding by it now and then;

Commandantes there delayed,

And the dust wreaths floated when

They spurred past it with their men;

Dust that laid on Serra’s tree,

In its robe of sea-mist pale,

The gray crown of history

And the queenship of the vale. 

Serra Trousett

Murray purchased this painting from a French capitalist who won the canvas in a raffle in San Francisco.

 

Queenship of the dying, laid

On that vanishing sweet shade,

While its shell stood, frail and old,

Did the human tide that rolled

Past it, with indifferent gaze

Of these cruel latter days,

Reck that underneath that Oak–

Once a meek Franciscan’s fane–

Western empire’s spirit woke

In the name of God and Spain.

 

Many moons have silver poured,

Many surfs have ebbed and roared,

Myriad changes have set seal;

Countless hopes have sunk and soared

Since the sand felt Serra’s keel;

Spanish bugles sang and died –

Mexic conquest flowered – to fade –

Where a younger martial pride

Hears the Eagle’s anthem played.

And the gnarled tree sadly heard

Knell of change, from breeze and bird;

So its faithful heart of oak

Slowly–sadly–surely–broke.

Time had breathed the fatal word.

 

Fading like the rose-touched past

And its genesis–it failed,

Craving pity, at the last,

For the death-stroke that it hailed;

And borne thence that it might rest,

In conservative kind shade,

By the Mission church walls made,

Where Life slumbers on Death’s breast.

Lonely wraith, some see it yet,

Like the past’s earth-bound regret,

Sunset gun and clear taps gave

Honors of a soldier’s grave,

To a sentinel who wooed

Winds that battled–storms that brewed;

While its hardier brother-train

Flourishes as vernal still,–

Curious eyes may search in vain

For that Oak beside the hill,

Newpostcard

This is a period postcard of the monument to Serra’s first mass. Tilden’s profile of Serra is at the center of the cross. A relief of the mission is at the base.

 

 

Vacancy–where once it rose

Centuries beneath the sky;

‘Til came one* who saw, and chose

That a memory should not die,

And a white shaft guards the fame

Of a little oak at rest–

Cenotaph that yet shall claim

Kinship with the old world’s best ;

But for this there would not be

(In a world which can forget),

Aught a memory of that tree;

 

 

2013-08-05T11-02-50_67edit

News article on the monument from 1962.

 

Thus one rare link of romance,

Golden chain the young world wore,

Slipped past ken of careless glance;

Still–-beside the fairest shore:

Measuredly the sentries pace–

Past the old time-haunted space;

Changes steal across Time’s face,

The old order is no more:

Round the dream-environed place

Fuller life more quickly streams,–

Ah! old leisure, dying grace,

Must decay touch all our dreams?

 

 

*Mr. James A. Murray


OF THIS POEM, THE PASSING OF AN OAK, BY MARY SULLIVAN SPENCE, TWELVE COPIES WERE DONE FOR MRS. JAMES A. MURRAY, FOR PRIVATE DISTRIBUTION, BY PAUL ELDER AND COMPANY. PRINTED BY THE TOMOYE PRESS, SAN FRANCISCO, UNDER THE DIRECTION OF J. H. NASH, DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, NINETEEN HUNDRED AND NINE.