Santa Clara University

Mission Santa Clara de Asis

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions often asked of our Museum and Tour Docents...


1. About the Mission organ? How does it make music, how old is it and was it used in the mission era?

Answer: The current Schantz pipe organ was installed in 1975 and was a gift of Mr & Mrs. Foster McGraw. Its console (or keyboard) is located on the nave floor and it is connected to the balcony pipe system--and the electronic blower–via a long, connecting hose (like a fire hose) filled with intricate wiring. The current pipe organ replaced an earlier, smaller pipe organ. In the earliest Mission Santa Clara days–pre–1851–the Mission probably had no organ as the Ohlones were trained to sing Gregorian Chant. Gregorian Chant requires no instruments of any kind; only the human voice.


2. About the Mission confessionals? What are they used for and did the Franciscan padres use them with the Ohlones?

Answer: As the name implies, confessionals are used to hear people’s confessions–an ancient Catholic sacrament–so that penitents can be reconciled with God and the Church. The priest occupies the center cubicle allowing two individual penitents to occupy the two flanking cubicles. Plans of earlier Santa Clara missions do not show built-in confessionals, but there can be no doubt that the early Franciscan padres provided some sort of traditional confessional–possibly of freestanding construction-- for their Ohlone converts.


3. About the Crucifix side chapel? Why is the man Jesus nailed to the cross and what is the meaning of the sign above the cross?

Answer: The Gospels record that Jesus of Nazareth was cruelly executed by the Roman authorities on a wooden cross. The trumped up charge was that of "sedition": i.e., stirring the people up and making them question Roman rule. The "INRI" sign above the figure of Jesus–written in Latin–means: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The Gospels say this sign was placed above the crucified Jesus with the intention of mocking Him and demoralizing the Jewish authorities.


4. About the two oval pictures above the Main Altar flanking Archangel Michael? Who are they?

Answer: These two pictures–exact copies taken from photographs of the original 1825 High Altar–depict St. Francis and St. Dominic as complements and coequal. The pairing of these two men goes back to a myth created by later leaders of their two religious orders. Worried about a growing competitive spirit between their two orders, they created the fiction that St. Francis and St. Dominic had been close, life-long friends. In reality, the two men met briefly and only once.


5. About the angels and cherubs all over the Mission. What is their purpose? Who started this?

Answer: Portraying angels in Christian churches finds its inspiration in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem and other references in the Bible. The Bible says that the function of angels is to manifest God’s glory and worship God and to serve as God‘s emissaries. Whenever God comes to Earth, angels signify God’s presence. The "Ark of the Covenant" within the Jewish Temple was surmounted by two magnificent, carved angels kneeling with wings touching. The Jews referred to this ark and the surrounding chamber as the "Holy of Holies" and believed God to be specially present there. Likewise, we learn in the New Testament, that there are hierarchies of angels: cherubim and seraphim among them, who surround the Throne of Heaven adoring God ceaselessly. This motif of angels became very popular in European churches so the Franciscan padres naturally wanted Mission Santa Clara to be equally understood as "The House of God," where God is specially "Present," and they commissioned the best artists they could find to fill their missions with adoring angels.


6. About the raised pulpit? What is it used for? How do you get to it?

Answer: Before churches had sound systems they needed low-tech methods to help worshipers hear the priest during services. Raising the priest higher than the average worshipers’ heads was a common way of carrying the sound as far as possible. A narrow flight of stairs takes you up to the pulpit via a curtained entryway just beyond the pulpit.


7. About the burials within the Mission? Are they buried in the ground or special crypts?

Answer: Records tell us that there are at least four people buried in Mission Santa Clara. They are: Padre Magin Catala, Fr. John Nobili, S.J.; Fr. Peter de Vos S.J.; and James Murphy (son of the pioneer family which founded Sunnyvale, CA). At this date, however, we cannot verify exact burial locations nor their specific methods of entombment. Blue prints of the current building reveal no identifiable crypts or tombs. The likelihood is that most of the burials are in-ground and possibly underneath the tile floor of the nave.


8. About the bells in the Tower? When were they given and from whom? What does the ringing of the bells signify? Are they still rung?

Answer: There are three bells in the Mission bell tower–all of them are operational. Two of the bells are dated 1799; a third is dated 1928.  There was a 1929 bell which is a recasting of an older, famous bell given by the King of Spain to ring at 8:30 p.m. each day to remember his deceased family members.  This bell is currently on display in the basement of the de Saisset Museum.  The origin of the other bells are unknown. Church bells are rung primarily to call people to worship–but there is also a long monastic tradition which proscribes that the bells be rung at certain times of day to call people to daily prayers. The Mission bells still ring each day at Noon, 6:00 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and before each Sunday worship service.


9. About the Holy Family Painting? Why is it at the back of the church? What is its story?

Answer: The Painting of the Holy Family was commissioned in 1889 by Captain Francis Raggio, for his brother Fr. Aloysius Raggio, a Jesuit who served as Pastor of Mission Santa Clara in the latter 1800's. Captain Raggio had been serving in the French Foreign Legion when he was captured and imprisoned by the French Indo-Chinese (now known as Vietnam). He vowed to God that if he ever got home, he would repay God with a magnificent work of art. He was released soon after and, true to his word, commissioned Italian artist, Riva Giuseppe Bergamo to paint the magnificent "Holy Family" painting. (His work is closely based on a previous work by Murillo, a great Spanish baroque painter). When the work was completed, it was shipped to Mission Santa Clara where it graced the High Altar of the brick Victorian "student chapel" which at one time sat on top of the adjacent Mission cemetery. We are fortunate that this beautiful artwork was rescued from the same 1926 fire which completely destroyed both the old, adobe Mission and the brick student chapel.  When the current Mission was built in 1927, it was decided to place the Holy Family painting in the side chapel intended for baptisms. Traditional baptistries are often located near the front door of the church.

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