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4 Places to Find St. Junípero Serra in the Basilica

Saint Junipero Serra portrayed in the East PorticoDubbed the “Apostle to California,” St. Junípero Serra is known for his work evangelizing in the Americas and establishing missions across the Western coast. Born in Petra, Majorca, Spain in 1713, Junípero joined the Franciscan order at age 16 and earned his doctorate of theology at the Lullian University before journeying to America to begin his ministry. Even though he was plagued by health problems, he didn’t let that stop him from trekking hundreds of miles across the continent in his pursuit of evangelization.

As we celebrate his feast day on July 1, we invite you to reflect on his work and to discover four places where you can find him portrayed in the art of the Basilica.

1. The East Portico: “Apostle to California” Marble Statue

In the lower east portico stands a life-size statue of Saint Junípero Serra, holding high a caravaca cross. Carved from magnificent white marble, this statue marks the place where Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015, the first canonization to take place in the United States. In his left hand, the saint cradles a model of the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo, the second mission founded by Serra and the place where he was most active in his work. The statue was designed by Rambusch Decorating Co.

2. The Sacristy: Stained Glass Window

Etched in stained glass on the north walls of the Great Upper Church sacristy are depictions of saints who were instrumental in spreading the Gospel in the Americas. Because of his great work of evangelization in California, Saint Junípero is depicted there alongside Bishop Stephen Ortynsky and Bishop Benedict Flaget. Once again, he holds in his hands the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo, a representation of his life’s work and purpose.

3. The Trinity Dome Mosaic

Saint Junípero is honored in the litany of 18 saints depicted in the shimmering Trinity Dome mosaic in the Great Upper Church, portrayed beside Saint Mother Teresa and Saint Martin de Porres. The mosaic was fabricated by the artisans at Travisanutto Giovanni company and installed by Rugo Stone in 2017.

Junípero Serra tympana mosaic4. The East Portico: Tympana Mosaic

In this gilt-edged mosaic, Saint Junípero stands with the Pacific Ocean at his feet as he lifts up the Mission of San Carlos Borromeo to the heavens, evoking the offering of his ministry to the Lord. Behind him kneels Friar Antonio de la Ascención, a member of the religious order of the Discalced Carmelites, with his banner caught high in the wind. In glittering tiles beneath their feet is the inscription, “Junípero Serra at Monterey.” Designed by Polish artist John de Rosen and manufactured by German artist Peter Recker, this is one of five mosaics that decorate the tympana of the eastern portico, each depicting a significant event in the growth of the church in the United States.

To this day, the imprint of Saint Junípero’s ministry remains a prominent feature of California, where the nine missions founded by him dot the coast. May his legacy and perseverance inspire you as we celebrate his life this week.

“[B]rothers and sisters, let us contemplate the witness of holiness given by Friar Junípero. He was one of the founding fathers of the United States, a saintly example of the Church’s universality and special patron of the Hispanic people of the country. In this way, may all Americans rediscover their own dignity, and unite themselves ever more closely to Christ and his Church.”
– Pope Francis, speaking at the canonization of Saint Junípero Serra in 2015


“The Cause of Junípero Serra,” Dr. Geraldine Rohling

History of Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo,” California Missions Foundation Website

Rohling, Geraldine M., PhD, MAEd. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: Guide and Tour BookWashington, D.C.: Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 2018.

“Saint Junípero Serra,” USCCB

“The Works of Fray Antonio de la Ascencion,” W. Michael Mathes, California Historical Quarterly, Volume 50, Issue 2, June 1971

Quiz: The History of American Catholicism
Larger Than Life: Heroic Statues of the Basilica