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The Catalá Crucifix

Elaine Jordan
One of the lesser known missionaries of the California Missions who deserves greater attention is Fr. Magin Catalá. Born in Montblanc in Catalonia, Spain, in 1761, he entered the Franciscans at age 16 and was ordained in 1785. Soon after, he volunteered to enter the mission fields in America.

catala crucifix Santa Clara mission

Fr. Catala's crucifix at a side altar in the Church of the Mission Santa Clara

For 36 years he labored with Fr. Jose Viader at the Santa Clara de Assis Indian mission, one of the chain of 21 missions in California established in this period. In his time, he was renowned for his many miracles and prophecies, as well as the exorcisms he performed. The Indians aptly called him ‘The Holy Man of Santa Clara.’

Today you can still see the miraculous Catalá Crucifix before which he prayed for hours, frequently remaining there the whole night in prayer to his Lord on the Cross. The life size crucifix sets above a side altar in the restored Mission Church, which has become part of the campus of the University of Santa Clara, run by the Jesuits. In a metal casket close beside the Altar of the Crucifix, Fr. Catalá’s remains are preserved.

Several Indians heard the image of Our Lord speaking to his faithful servant from that Cross over the altar. Once, Our Lord leaned forward before the whole congregation to commend him during his preaching. On other occasions, eye-witnesses testified that the image of Christ leaned down from the crucifix to embrace the brown-robed Franciscan and to lift him above the ground.

In his book titled Holy Man of Santa Clara, Fr. Zephyrin Englehardt relates, "One day during Holy Week while kneeling before the Great Crucifix in the Church of Santa Clara, Jose Antonio Alviso and several other persons present heard Fr. Magin sigh aloud, "When, oh my God, shall I see Thy glory? How much longer shall my banishment last in this valley of tears?' “Suddenly Alviso heard Our Lord from the Cross answer, ‘Soon you shall see God in glory.”


It was common talk among the Indians that these prayer vigils of Padre Magin were not without marvelous occurrences. Often the children would peep through the keyhole or the cracks in the front door of the Church in order to watch the holy man at prayer before the Altar of the Great Crucifix to see if they could see him raised up in the air.

nave santa clara mission church

The main nave of the restored Santa Clara Mission Church; below, the exterior

santa clara mission church
In the process for his beatification made in 1884, six witnesses testified to seeing Fr. Catalá levitate, rising in the air to pray directly before the Crucified Christ. Thus Petra Pacheco Soto related that one day, when Fr. Viader could not find him, he was told that Fr. Catalá as usual was in the Church before the Crucifix. A messenger going to the Church discovered him raised up high in the air on the level of the Cross. The Savior had unfastened His hands from the Cross and was resting them on the shoulders of the holy man. This testimony was corroborated by Rufino Saiz, Berta Guadalupe, Antonia Flores and Encarnacion Soto.

Another Indian of good character, Ignacio Alviso, stated that once when he went to call Fr. Magin Catalá for supper, he saw the holy man raised in the air embracing the Crucified Lord. When the holy friar noticed that he had been observed, he forbade Alviso to communicate to anyone what he had seen.

The Indian Egidio, who was with Fr. Magin in his last hours, testified that he had also seen the priest levitate and the Crucified Savior place His unfastened hands upon his shoulders. Rita Garcia testified that her grandmother, one of the colonists at the mission, used to often tell this story: A boy came running to her exclaiming, “Come see, the Father is kneeling in the air, and he does not fall.” She replied, “Take care! Do not go about telling lies! How can that be?”

The boy, seeing that she did not believe him, made the Sign of the Cross with his finger and then kissed it, thus indicating that he swore that he was telling the truth.


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Excerpts of the testimonies taken from Zephyrin Engelhardt,
The Holy Man of Santa Clara, San Francisco: James Barry, 1909, pp. 174- 176

Posted February 9, 2013

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