The statue of Father Junipero Serra that stands before Mission Santa Barbara was found this morning to be missing its head, according to multiple media reports. Like the vandal attacks against Serra since he was made a saint in 2015, this one included red paint splashed onto the statute, presumably to simulate the blood of the indigenous peoples subjugated and killed by the California mission system in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The executive director for Old Mission Santa Barbara, Monica Orozco, stated the Santa Barbara Police had begun to investigate the vandalism. Mission Santa Barbara is known for an extensive archive that includes Serra’s papers, but the mission was founded by his successor, Padre Fermín Francisco de Lasuén.
This is not the first time vandals have struck the mission. In 2011, on Easter Sunday, a reference to Christ and Auschwitz was spray-painted on the sandstone façade of the church.
A photo of the statue at the community news site Edhat, taken by a reader, shows the beheaded statue and red paint running down the length of the statue and its plinth. In an August incident, the Serra statue in Mission Hills, located in a park across from Mission San Fernando, had its hands painted red and the word “murderer” painted on its base, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2015, the year Serra was canonized, the cemetery at Mission Carmel, where his remains are buried, was vandalized and “Saint of Genocide” written on a headstone. The Times also reported a statue of Serra in Monterey was decapitated.
Editor’s Note: We originally referred to the indigenous peoples who were persecuted and killed under the California mission system as “Indians.” We’ve changed this language to be as inclusive of these diverse identities as we can.