OUR LADY OF REFUGE
PATRONESS OF BOTH CALIFORNIAS
Brother John M. Samaha, S.M.
Our Lady of Refuge, Nuestra Señora del Refugio, is Patroness of Both
Californias (Ambas Californias) .
The Franciscan missionary Francisco Diego Garcia y Moreno
was the first Bishop of the Californias – Baja California (lower California
in what is now Mexico) and Alta California (upper Calfornia in the present
U.S.A.). It was he who proclaimed Nuestra Señora del Refugio,
Patrona de las Ambas Californias. The official proclamation was made
by Bishop Garcia Diego on January 4, 1843, at Mission Santa Clara in Alta
The Episcopal Proclamation
The entire text of Bishop Garcia Diego’s declaration is
recorded in Mission Santa Clara’s Libro de Patentes. After citing the
early Fathers of the Church on the practice and spiritual benefits of naming
patrons saints, the first bishop of the Californias stated: “We make known
to you that we hereby name the great Mother of God in her most precious title,
‘del Refugio,’ the principal patroness of our diocese…. With so great
a patroness and protectress, what can we not promise ourselves? What
can be wanting and whom need we fear?
“If through the centuries this most worthy Mother of God
has shown goodness and compassion to all peoples and nations…will she not
do likewise for those peoples who bind themselves to her as their refuge
and special patroness?”
All California missions, and the parishes established later, celebrated this
patronal feast with great solemnity. In the many political and
historical shifts, interest in celebrating the feast had waned. But
now the feast is attracting fresh attention.
The Liturgical Feast
In 1981 the California Catholic Conference of Bishops
petitioned the Vatican Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship
for authorization to observe the feast of Our Lady of Refuge on July 5 as
an obligatory memorial. This was approved by official document dated
January 15, 1982, and signed by Archbishop Giuseppe Casoria.
The dioceses of Baja California celebrate this patronal
feast on July 4. Because of Independence Day, the dioceses of Alta
California chose July 5, and the memorial is listed for that day in their
Ordo. The feast of Our Lady of Refuge (sometimes called Our Lady, Refuge
of Sinners) has its own proper prayers for the Eucharistic Liturgy and the
Liturgy of the Hours.
Over the last century and a half the original Diocese
of Ambas Californias has been divided many times on both sides of the border
as the local Church has grown. Until the end of the nineteenth century
the priests of the Archdiocese of San Francisco prayed a special liturgical
office for the feast of Our Lady of Refuge. In the Dioceses of San
Diego the feast has always been observed.
The renewal of interest in this Marian feast honoring
the patroness of the Golden State was stimulated by the 1987-1988 Marian
Year observance and Pope John Paul II’s encouragement to revitalize interest
in special, local feasts of the Virgin Mother Mary.
The entire coat of arms of Bishop Garcia Diego included
only the image of Our Lady of Refuge. A painting of Our Lady of Refuge
holding her Child, usually the product of a local or native artist, graced
each mission church after the bishop’s proclamation. To this day most
of the twenty-one missions of Alta California still display this image in
the churches or in their museums.
The original painting of Our Lady of Refuge came to the
Franciscan College of Zacatecas in Mexico from Italy. An Italian Jesuit
missionary brought it to Mexico to explain the enthusiastic interest in Our
Lady, Refuge of Sinners, that had developed in parish missions in eighteenth
century Italy. Devotion to the Mother of Jesus under this title and
in this pictorial representation gained wide popularity among the Mexican
and Californian Franciscans and the people they served.
Paintings of Our Lady of Refuge are, with few exceptions,
quite similar in design and execution. The heads of the Infant Jesus
and his Mother Mary lean together with no background between them.
Both figures wear a crown. Mary’s eyes are turned toward the observer,
while the gaze of the Child seems to turn left of the viewer.
In the Santa Clara Mission church the painting of Our
Lady of Refuge is found above the larger picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe
in one of the side altar niches on the left as one nears the sanctuary.
Another painting by Eulalio, a local Native American, is on display in Santa
Clara University’s De Saisset Museum near the mission church.
Other known and attractive portrayals of Our Lady of Refuge
are found at Mission Santa Barbara, Mission San Carlos Borromeo at Carmel,
Mission San Francisco de Asis, and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
The proper name, Refugio, was and still is given to both
male and female Mexican children at the time of birth and baptism.
Church historians and native Californians applaud the
move for restoring the Patroness of Both Californias to her original
and rightful prominence in the local Church’s liturgical calendar.