At Our Feet

History lives within the walls of Mission Santa Clara de Asís.

Around 1822, a member of the Mission community, likely an Indigenous person, laid out adobe tiles to harden in the sun. At a moment between wet and dry, a small dog or coyote sauntered or maybe ran by at full tilt—this detail is lost to history—across the clay, leaving tracks that remain in the St. Francis Chapel at the back of the Mission Santa Clara de Asís.

View Of The Mission Santa Clara De Asis, Ca.1865(?)

STRUCTURAL RELICS

The Mission Santa Clara de Asís went through many iterations and locations before becoming the Mission Church we know today. What remains of its 1822 adobe structure—an interior adobe wall and tiles—is in the current St. Francis Chapel at the back of the church. Today’s main church structure was built after a 1926 blaze destroyed most of the Mission

WHOSE PRINTS?

It’s not clear what kind of animal left the prints on the adobe tile in the Mission. Communities living in California at the time of contact with European settlers had many types of domesticated dogs, although few breeds survive today. The area was also home to wild canids, including coyotes, foxes, and wolves.

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These prints aren’t the only animal tracks on the Mission Church’s tiles. A cat or squirrel likely made another set as adobe tile was left outside to process, says Charles White, Mission Church director.

Spying these prints today may bring a delighted sense of connection to the past. We have the thriftiness of those before us to thank for the experience.“In the early Mission days, slightly damaged or imperfect materials were not automatically thrown out as today,” White says.

HERE TODAY

Indigenous people in the region at that time, mostly the Ohlone and the Muwekma Ohlone people, remain in the Bay Area. Santa Clara University strives to better recognize the contributions and sacrifices of first peoples with a significant renovation of the deSaisset Museum’s collection, a community PowWow, a working group, and a regular reminder before events that this land is the traditional home of the Ohlone and the Muwekma Ohlone people.

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drying adobe tiles

AN ACCIDENTAL CANVAS

During theMission period, Indigenous community members made adobe floor tiles by hand from clay, leaving them in the sun to cure before being placed.

ROOM FOR A BABY BOOM

St.Francis Chapel came to be in 1980 when the main building couldn’t keep up with the demand for infant baptisms. White and then University President William J. Rewak, S.J reclaimed the space, then a storage area. Howard Major, S.J. created a new ceiling and a free standing cross that sits against the adobe wall.

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