The Mexican-born Jesuit Miguel Venegas apparently never set foot in Baja California, but his extensive writing about that Jesuit mission field, reprinted in these five hefty volumes, remains the cornerstone of Bajacaliforniana.
With significant documents at his disposal, and information that he gathered by sending a questionnaire to contemporaries, Venegas prepared a history of Baja California from the time of its discovery through the Jesuit labors on the peninsula in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Venegas completed his manuscript, “Empresas Apostólicas de los PP. Misioneros de la Compañía de Jesús . . . en la conquista de Californias” in 1739. Partly because it revealed details about Baja California’s defenses that might be useful to Spain’s enemies, the manuscript was not immediately published. Instead, it was sent to Spain for inspection by censors. There, between 1750 and 1754, the Jesuit intellectual Andrés Marcos Burriel revised Venegas’s manuscript and brought it up to date. Retitled Noticia de la California, Burriel’s revision appeared in three volumes in 1757.
The first three volumes of Obras californianas contain a facsimile of the 1757 edition of Noticia de la California, while volume four consists of a facsimile of Venegas’s original manuscript, written in his own hand and published for the first time. Volume five consists of a facsimile of another of Venegas’s works relating to Baja California, a biography of the pioneering missionary Juan María Salvatierra, first published in 1754.
Here, thanks to the inspiration and editing of the indefatigable Michael Mathes, Professor of History at the University of San Francisco, we have the most useful edition of Venegas’s work on Baja California. Mathes has wisely reproduced Venegas’s studies in facsimile, leaving no room for errors in transcription or type-setting (although portions of Venegas’s handwritten manuscript did not copy well). Obras californianas is more useful than the original editions, however, for it contains an index, which the originals lacked, a concordance, and a bibliography of works cited by Venegas and Burriel. Moreover, Mathes, the foremost authority on the colonial history of Baja California, has provided two expert introductory essays. One examines how the work of Venegas and Burriel came to be; the other comments on errors found in the original texts, and takes the place of the standard form of annotation. The first of these two essays, entitled Supplement: Historical-Biographical Introduction, was also published in English as a separate pamphlet.