Some say Silicon Valley is only a concept, while Santa Clara Valley is an actual place.
The place most people think of as Silicon Valley is more-accurately Santa Clara Valley, which is located in the south San Francisco Bay Area of California, and named for Saint Clare of Assisi. Many high-tech companies were first established in the Santa Clara Valley around the city of San José (named for Saint Joseph), and then related businesses spread north towards two other major Bay Area cities, San Francisco (named for Saint Francis) and Oakland. The term “Silicon Valley” then came to have two definitions: a narrower geographic one, and a broader definition referring to a concentration of high-tech businesses in the entire Bay Area.
From Mission to County, University, and City of Santa Clara
The valley itself was dedicated to Saint Clare when Mission Santa Clara was founded in 1777 by Saint Junipero Serra. After Mexico broke with Spain in 1822, the Mexican government secularized the missions, and the lands intended by the missionaries for the converted Native Americans was grabbed up mostly by former soldiers of the Spanish army who were of mixed Spanish and native Mexican ancestry, many of whom had been promised land for their military service—and later by unscrupulous immigrants from the East, who flooded into the area around the time of the Gold Rush.
Father Magin Catalá, who is mentioned in the caption of the photo below, was a remarkably saintly Franciscan who first came to Mission Santa Clara in 1796, nineteen years after the mission was first founded, and who labored there with love and great personal sacrifice for thirty-six years until his death in 1830. Although he is not as well known as Saint Junipero Serra, Father Catalá won the devotion of the Native American converts and the Spanish settlers he served. A 1909 biography of Father Catalá titled The holy man of Santa Clara or, Life, virtues and miracles of Fr. Magin Catalá, O.F.M. is free for download at The Internet Archive. It includes testimony from several reliable witnesses that was taken when Father Catalá’s cause for canonization was opened. (Those testimonials still can be viewed in the SCU Library Archives). Witnesses saw Father Catalá levitate when he prayed in front of a carved wooden life-sized crucifix from Mexico, and they reported that the figure of Christ detached his hands from the cross and laid them on Father Catalá shoulders. For various reasons, the cause for his canonization has stalled since then.
Santa Clara County was formed when California became a state in 1850. In 1851, the Jesuits set up the first college in the new state, Santa Clara University, on the site of the old mission.
Many different versions of the Mission church were built as the need arose after fires, earthquakes, and aging of the structures. The current restored and enlarged mission church is still used as the SCU chapel. The miraculous crucifix that embraced Father Catalá hangs over a side altar in the Mission chapel, and a small group meets monthly to pray at that altar for his sainthood to be acknowledged by the Church
In 1852, a new town grew up that became the city of Santa Clara. Today the city, the county, and the university still bear St. Clare’s name.
The borders of the Diocese of San José are the borders of Santa Clara County, and so Saint Clare is also the patron of the diocese, along with Saint Joseph.
From Fruit Trees to Silicon
During Father Magin Catalá’s thirty-six years at Mission Santa Clara, he oversaw the planting of orchards, and the mission orchards became the first of many more that were later planted and led to a major packing and canning industry that flourished at the beginning of the 20th century. By 1915, there were 7,829,677 fruit trees in the valley. The beauty and fragrance of the blossoming of millions of fruit trees gave the Santa Clara valley a charming new name, the Valley of Heart’s Delight, a name that lasted until after WWII when residential neighborhoods began to crowd out the orchards.
But then, in the 1950s, electronic component manufacturing companies opened, followed a few decades later by computer-related businesses, and the valley slowly became covered with business parks, mostly one-story family homes, townhouses, and shopping malls, criss-crossed by roads, and intersected by freeways. The orchards pretty much disappeared, except for a vestigal orchard or two maintained in a history park in one of the area’s cities.
Because silicon is the main ingredient in computer chips, Ralph Vaerst, who was the founder of a company called Ion Equipment Corporation, came up with the nickname of Silicon Valley in 1971, and after he suggested it to journalist Dan Hoefler, Hoefler wrote a series of articles in Electronic News that popularized the term.
Saint Clare’s Statue in the City Called By Her Name
In the early 1960s, the city of Santa Clara asked for bids for a sculpture of St. Clare. The statue was erected by the winner, who was lowest bidder. The first photo below shows a pigeon on the statue’s head and gives an idea how bleak the statue looks.
I asked on Facebook one day, “Who knows what the ‘iconography’ of this rough statue holding some twiggy things was supposed to mean?” And a friend told me the twiggy things are supposed to be the palm branch that the local bishop gave Clare on Palm Sunday, just before she ran off to meet up with St. Francis and dedicate herself to Lady Poverty as he had done. See more about the iconography here. Really though, I don’t think I can be blamed for not being able to recognize the twiggy thing as a palm branch.
The water below the statue was drained during a drought and never refilled, the flowers are gone, and the current plaza looks stark.
Saint Clare’s Garden in the University
At Santa Clara University, a project was conceived in 2001 to develop a medieval garden, and the university president donated a plot of land for the project on condition that it be dedicated to Saint Clare.
The description of Saint Clare on the garden’s website was written by Nancy Lucid, Ph.D., the garden’s designer and the creator of the website. The saint is portrayed at that site with a definite radical feminist slant, as a girl who saw following Francis as an escape from the oppression of the male-dominated society.
“Clare, a beautiful young girl from a wealthy and powerful family, was expected to function as a financial and social asset for that family. She should marry well, bear many children, and thus create more wealth and power for the Favorone clan.” According to Lucet, nineteen-year-old Clare escaped that oppressive male dominated society, marriage, and the mothering of many children by running away to follow Francis. “Her sister soon ran away from home and joined her, as did many other well-born women of the town, and eventually her widowed mother. . . .These women left their proud and violent male relatives to live with each other and for each other and God, forsaking earthly riches, comforts, and power.”
As the politically adept are often heard to say, no further comment at this time. 🙁
Sometimes by God’s Grace Mistaken Artistic Choices Are Set Right
Sometimes by the grace of God mistaken artistic choices of the past are remedied. Two beautiful statues of St. Clare and St. Joseph, which are described in a Liturgical Arts Journal article here, were created as replacements for two ill-chosen statues added during a renovation of St. Joseph Cathedral in San José during the late 1980s.
When the writer of the article stated that the earlier statues were “ill suited to the scale of the cathedral,” he was being more tactful than I could be. When I had first visited the newly renovated cathedral when it reopened in 1990, soon after I was recruited from Minnesota to Santa Clara valley to work at Sun Microsystems computer company, I was repelled by the ugliness of the statues, and I wondered who could have commissioned or approved them. They were rough hewn and monstrous, and even the iconography of St. Clare’s statue was capricious, with her holding a gilded cup instead of the more traditional monstrance. Did I say those statues were ugly? Yes. Yes. They were.
See this story written by Tommaso da Celano, a Franciscan friar who lived at the time of St. Francis. It tells about how Saint Clare turned away Saracen invaders with the help of the Blessed Sacrament. And see the snide caption on this photo I took of the St. Clare statue, which I am grateful is no longer in the cathedral.
Dear Saint Clare, pray for the people in this valley that is called by your name.
From Matins on the Feast of St. Clare, Virgin, August 12 (Traditional Calendar)
Clare was a virgin of noble birth, born at Assisi in Umbria. Imitating St. Francis, her fellow-citizen, she gave all her goods in alms to aid the poor. Fleeing from the noise of the world, she went to a country chapel and there received the tonsure from St. Francis, strongly resisting her kindred who were trying to bring her back. Then he led her to the church of St. Damian, where she founded an Order of nuns, the government of which she undertook, yielding to the repeated requests of St. Francis. She governed her monastery with care and prudence for forty-two years. When the Saracens tried to invade it, she commanded that the Blessed Sacrament be brought and prayed most humbly, and they at once took to flight. She went to heaven on the 12th day of August, and was enrolled among the holy Virgins by Pope Alexander IV.”