Our Lady of Bethlehem Discovered at Last!
Book review of Discovering Our Lady of Bethlehem: Her Journey with Fr. Serra by Judith Fife Mead and Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D. (Los Angeles: TIA, 2017),76 pp
Last year I returned and realized that Our Lady of Bethlehem had been, so to speak, 'discovered' and given a much better place. There she was, in her own dedicated chapel next to the main altar, in a well-lighted case.
To my great joy, her story has also been discovered and told in this small book published by Judith Fife Mead and Marian Therese Horvat. Her history is, in fact, part of the life of Fr. Junípero Serra and the first two California missions in San Diego and Monterey, which explains the full title of the book – Discovering Our Lady of Bethlehem: Her Journey with Fr. Serra.
Chapter I begins with the account of the ancient title Our Lady of Bethlehem, which honors Our Lady at the birth of Christ. This devotion was very popular in Portugal and Spain during the Age of Discovery, and so many statues with that title traveled with the Franciscan Friars who accompanied the sailors on their voyages to the New World.
It was interesting to learn that the Virgin of Bethlehem was also invoked as the Virgin of the Star, Our Lady of Good Success and the Virgin of the Safe Homecoming (p. 18). This gives our California statue a special link with the famous Our Lady of Good Success in Quito.
There is one point I will make here, leaving you to enjoy the rest of the story, which is a quite easy and enjoyable read. It is the amazing story of how Our Lady of Bethlehem crossed the ocean to come to California not once, but twice. It seems she was quite determined to be in that State.
The restored San Carlos Borromeo chapel, today a Basilica
Our Lady of Bethlehem was carefully boxed up and packed in the San Antonio, one of the three ships that set out for San Diego. It was the only ship that arrived without mishap or sickness (the San José and all its men were lost at sea). We can see how dangerous these travels were and why the captains and sailors invoked Our Lady for a good success, or safe homecoming, before embarking.
The San Diego Mission was successfully set up 1769, Our Lady remained there a year while preparations were made for estabishing the second mission. In 1770, Our Lady re-entered the San Antonio and started the last leg of her trip on the Pacific to the second mission in Monterey, again without mishap.
The first High Mass under the large oak on Monterey Bay on Pentecost Sunday, June 3, 1770
But Fr. Serra was a man of his word. The statue returned to Mexico City, and the joyous Dom Galvéz, exuberant over the success of what was being called the “impossible mission,” decided to send Our Lady of Bethlehem back to Fr. Serra as a gift to him and the Californian Missions.
Thus, Our Lady of Bethlhem traveled twice from Mexico City to Alta California: the first time on loan to accompany the Sacred Expedition of 1769, the second time a year later to remain in California permanently, a reward for the good success of the Sacred Expedition.
Clearly Our Lady of Bethlehem wanted to continue her work of conquering souls for Heaven in Spain's new territory of Alta California. The impressive list of Baptisms recorded in the Mission archives is proof of her success in this regard. By the time of Fr. Serra's death in 1784 – that is, in just 15 years – the Franciscans had baptized 6410 natives (pp. 53-55). A great conquest for Heaven!
Later, with secularization and the abandonment of the Missions, it was descendents of those converted Indians and early colonists who saved and preserved Our Lady of Bethlehem. When the restoration of Carmel Mission began in the 20th century, she and the Christ Child were returned to the rebuilt Church.
The side chapel of Our Lady of Bethlhem
It is my hope that this book will help to make Our Lady of Bethlehem better known and loved in our country. Had she been honored as she should have been, perhaps she would have worked marvelous favors and miracles for those coming to her with their woes and troubles.
I believe she would still give many favors and miracles in these dire times if Catholic will just turn to her with confidence. It is certainly a statue with an supernatural air around it, very similar to Our Lady of Good Success in Quito or the statue of Our Lady of Fatima that wept in New Orleans.
The only thing that seems to be missing is the devotion of the people. For this reason, it seems urgent that Our Lady of Bethlehem become better known so that she may intercede for California and our country in the chastisement that is certainly coming.
Posted December 12, 2018