In San Francisco, one less space for St Junipero Serra

The sculpture Early Days near San Franciscos City Hall Credit Beyond My Ken CC 40 CNA The sculpture Early Days near San Francisco's City Hall, which is to be removed following a March 5, 2017 vote. | Beyond My Ken (CC BY 4.0).

California missionary St. Junipero Serra will be among the figures removed from a prominent location near San Francisco City Hall after the city's art commission unanimously voted to remove the statue March 5.

The bronze statue, titled "Early Days," shows three figures: a Native American sitting at the feet of English seafarer Francis Drake and of Serra, the eighteenth-century Spanish missionary who founded the missions at the center of many Californian cities.

St. Junipero's statue is shown bending down, looking at the Native American with his palm facing downward. The statue's other arm is stretched skyward, with a finger pointing to the heavens.

The statue is part of a larger bronze and granite Pioneer Monument.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, an arts commission memo said people had called for the statue to be removed because "the allegorical sculpture's depiction of the degradation and genocide of Native American peoples, utilizing visual stereotypes common at the turn of the twentieth century to depict all Native Americans which are now universally viewed as disrespectful, misleading, and racist."

Pope Francis canonized the friar in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23, 2015.

"Junípero sought to defend the dignity of the native community, to protect it from those who had mistreated and abused it," the Pope said in his homily at the Mass of canonization. "Mistreatment and wrongs which today still trouble us, especially because of the hurt which they cause in the lives of many people."

"Junípero Serra left his native land and its way of life," the Pope continued. "He was excited about blazing trails, going forth to meet many people, learning and valuing their particular customs and ways of life. He learned how to bring to birth and nurture God's life in the faces of everyone he met; he made them his brothers and sisters."

That same year, some California legislators had sought to replace a statue of Junipero Serra in the National Statuary Hall in Washington with a statue of Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut in space. Pope Francis visited that statue of Serra.

The San Francisco statue was completed in 1894 by the American sculptor Frank H. Happersberger. The costs to remove it could run from $160,000 to $200,000. It will be placed in storage.

The latest push to remove the saint's statue followed the August 2017 protests in Charlottesville, Va. over the removal of a Confederate statue, which attracted neo-Confederate and far-right activists. One counter-protester was killed and several injured when a supporter of the statue drove his car into a crowd.

In February the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission backed the removal of the statue so long as it is replaced with a plaque explaining the removal.

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