The Not-So-Great Monterey Beach Cross Debate

As the Topix forums for commenting on local news stories are populated almost entirely by trolls focused on antagonizing and insulting one another, it wasn’t surprising that the sawing down, by persons unknown, of the 20 foot tall cross that’s been standing on public property on the Monterey Beach for the past 40 years resulted in an outpouring of vitriol, on several different Topix threads, aimed at “Liberals,” the ACLU, Obama, etc.

So it was a breath of fresh air to see a thoughtful comment, authored by “JDW” appear on one thread reading, in part:

The Latin Cross is the most widely recognized symbol of Christianity. It likely had its origins in the Roman Catholic Church, though they tend to favor the Crucifix, which has a depiction of the dying Christ, his passion and ultimate resurrection. Some Christians use the Latin Cross, some do not. However, to even the most casual observer, it is a Christian symbol. A solitary wooden cross, without adornment or embellishment, really has no other meaning. At the time of the Portola-Crespi expedition, it symbolized the Roman Catholic Monarchy of Spain and was likely placed somewhere on the coast of Monterey Bay by Spanish Catholic Missionaries and Explorers (Conquistadores) to claim the land as their own, even though other peoples had been living here for thousands of years. It’s unlikely that the spot chosen in 1969 by the well-meaning citizens of Monterey is anywhere near the original site of the cross, as the expedition followed the Salinas River to the sea. It’s more likely near Marina that the original cross was placed.

IF the intention of the citizens of Monterey was to commemorate the ‘discovery’ of Monterey by the Spanish by placing an interpretive monument, the plaque (and not the cross) would have been sufficient. IF they had wished to be historically accurate, it would have been somewhere else.

To say that the cross is simply a monument to history and NOT a religious symbol denigrates it as the powerful symbol that it is to both Christians and non-Christians alike. It does have meaning and its meaning is religious. And as such, it has no place on public land, whether it be state or city-owned.

It is lamentable that the cross was cut down by vandals. I personally would have much preferred a civil debate on its merits as a monument and its meaning as a Christian symbol. There are many people who live in Monterey who are non-Christians. Do they not have the right to enjoy public lands free from Christian symbology? How do you think Native Americans view this reminder of their tragic historical interactions with Europeans? Does the fact that the cross is not historically accurate and that it is not suitable as an interpretive monument (claiming that it holds no religious meaning) satisfy anyone?

The preference of one religion over another or the support of a religious idea with no identifiable secular purpose is not allowed by the courts or the Constitution. To argue that a 20-foot Latin Cross is the only way to commemorate the ‘discovery’ of Monterey is preposterous. To say it is not a religious symbol is disingenuous. To cut it down without this debate is a crime.

Certainly a contribution of this kind could not fail to raise the level of the debate at least a little, could it?

Well, here’re some examples of what the trolls are saying in response:

“JDW, sounds like YOU chopped down the cross.”

“JDW sounds like someone with too much time on his/her hands, roaming around looking for ways to be offended. Get a life.”


“More of Obama and his people in action”

And best of all:

“All your words will not save you come the final judgment.If you were so smart you would have eyes to see god.Submit to Jesus Christ and live.Surrender not and parish.(sic)”

Talk about pearls before swine …

6 Responses to The Not-So-Great Monterey Beach Cross Debate

  1. JDW says:

    Here’s an update:

    After more research and some scholarly help from others, I now believe that the original cross, left by Portola and Crespi was near Point Piños, in what is now Pacific Grove. According to all accounts, the purpose of the original cross was to signal the supply ship, San Jose, that was supposed to meet the expedition in Monterey. Reading into Crespi’s contemporary account, he states the cross was placed “above a small cove (“ensenadita”) on a hill beside a salt march (“Estero”) near the Point of Pines (Punta de Piños or Pt. Pinos). This is the natural spot to serve as a nautical navigational aid – the very spot at which a ship navigating up the coast would have to turn to enter Monterey Bay. It is exactly why there is a light house there today.

    Furthermore, a cross located where the 1969 cross was placed would serve absolutely no purpose as a navigational aid. It could not be seen from a ship rounding the point and certainly not from a ship that missed the turn (in fog, perhaps?) to enter the bay.

    So, the commemorative cross from 1969 is in the wrong place, just not the wrong place I thought it was.

    I stand corrected. I wish the City could do the same.

  2. Gordon Smith says:

    The latest problem with reinstalling the 1969 Portola-Crespi Cross on Del Monte Beach is not a problem of separating church from state, but rather a problem of separating fact from fiction. There is compelling historical evidence that the City of Monterey is likely fighting the wrong battle, in the wrong place.

    The issue to which I am referring is not constitutional but geographical. According to the earliest historical accounts, the monument cross which was maliciously cut down last month should have originally been erected in Pacific Grove, not Monterey.

    A history lesson was recently given to the City Council on Gaspar de Portolà’s 1769 overland expedition to Alta California. What I observed presented were piecemeal historical facts, and non-facts loosely construed so as to make the illogical location of Del Monte Beach appear to be the site of where Portolà had “landed” and then erected a cross upon departure.

    It is widely accepted that in 1602, explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno sailed into Monterey Bay and named it Puerto Monte-Rey. He dropped anchor and held Mass ashore under an oak tree in what is now Monterey. In July 1769, Portolà, a Catholic priest named Juan Crespi, and a small army trekked north overland from San Diego searching for Vizcaíno’s Puerto Monte-Rey.

    In December 1769, Portolà’s provisions were nearly exhausted so he decided to return to San Diego. On the day of departure his men erected two crosses. It is uncontested that the first cross was erected near Carmel Beach and had a bottle with a message buried beneath it. Exactly where the second cross was erected in 1769 is the current issue.

    At the aforementioned City Council meeting, they unanimously accepted as fact that the second cross of 1769 was erected “somewhere” on Del Monte Beach. Contrarily, Father Crespi’s 1770 diary accounts clearly state this cross was erected at Pt. Pinos, in Pacific Grove.

    To wit, in The March of Portolà, (1909), Zoeth S. Eldredge writes, “…On Sunday, December 10th, they began the retreat from Monterey. Before leaving Carmelo Bay, they set up a large cross on a little hill on the shore of the ensenadita, and on it, cut into the wood, the legend: “Dig; at the foot you will find a writing.” A message was put into a bottle and buried at the foot of the cross. It gave the facts of the expedition…it states that from that day to this they have made a diligent search for the port of Monterey, but in vain, and now, despairing of finding it, their provisions nearly gone, they return to San Diego…The march that day was across the Point of Pines, one league and a half (3.9 miles), and they camped on the shore of Monterey Bay, where they erected another cross with an inscription announcing their departure.” Note: The shore of Monterey Bay begins at Pt. Pinos.
    In The Franciscans in California, (1897), Zephyrin Engelhardt cites Crespi on his 1770 return: “In his diary of the second land expedition to Monterey, related under the date of May 2nd, what follows with regard to the cross. ‘After a journey of three leagues (7.8 miles) we arrived at one of the salty lagunas of Punta Pinos where a cross had been erected (in 1769)…The cross was surrounded by arrows and little rods, tipped with feathers, which had been set into the ground by the Indians. Suspended from a stick, at one side of the cross, was a string of half-spoiled sardines, a number of clam shells, and a piece of meat.”

    But Crespi’s account of returning to Pt. Pinos to visit the cross in 1770 was not conveyed to the city council. The historians told the account of the cross with the “arrows and fish,” but omitted the documented location of the “salty lagunas of Punta Pinos,” instead substituting the location on Del Monte Beach near Roberts Lake.

    Crespi’s diary entries are the gold standard. His diary was written in a timely manner, not years later. He was there in 1769 when the crosses were erected. He returned to the same site six months later, on a day excursion from Monterey in 1770, identifying the location as at the “salty lagunas of Punta Pinos.” Today, the remaining salty laguna Crespi cites is known as Crespi’s Pond and Punta Pinos is known as Pt. Pinos in Pacific Grove.

    This history, buttressed with logic, strengthens the argument that Pt. Pinos is the true location of the second cross, since its purpose was not to “landmark” the bay (which would have been obvious regardless), but to notify to their supply ship that Portolà had returned south.
    Since Del Monte Beach is tucked inside the bay and hidden by the peninsula from the view of any passing ship, it ‘s an illogical location. Navigationally speaking, Pt. Pinos is an ideal spot for Portolà’s second cross of 1769, on the coast at the southern entrance to the bay, at a prominent place to which the mariner’s eye is naturally drawn.

    Gordon Smith has lived on Portola Avenue in Monterey since 1977.

  3. Gordon Smith says:

    Could it be possible that all the constitutional controversy regarding the cross cut down on Del Monte Beach last September is actually much ado about nothing? I say so if history is represented honestly.

    Gaspar de Portola was a soldier who in 1769 arrived in Monterey on horseback from Baja California with Catholic priest Juan Crespi. Upon his departure from Carmel, Portola’s men erected two crosses. According to Crespi’s 1770 diary the first cross is identified as being erected on Carmel Beach and the second cross as being erected at Pt. Pinos, near a lagoon now called Crespi’s Pond in Pacific Grove.

    The facts are that there was never a “Portola’s Landing” and there is no credible historical evidence placing the second 1769 cross on Del Monte Beach or anywhere else inside of Monterey Bay.

    To innocently place a historical monument in the wrong city is forgivable. But to willfully re-erect an historical monument in the wrong city is unethical. To knowingly re-erect a Christian cross as a historical monument in the wrong city is immoral if not sacrilegious.

    I say it is time to remove the remaining Portola-Crespi monument plaque and cross stump from the beach and move on.

  4. Flesticle says:

    I saw the cross ten years ago when biking the coast. Today, biking avian, was delighted to see it had been removed! The nutjob birther teabagger un-American idiots may rail about it but it had no place on public land. Good riddance! I bet it was cut down by a Palin supporter in order to generate controversy

  5. Lydia Green says:

    Thank you, JDW. I echo your sentiments. People have lots of other, far more appropriate places to enjoy a cross. But I do **not** think this should have been open to public debate. It was patently unconstitutional! Religious freedom is a foundation of America. And that means even non-Christians have a right to their beliefs, which all Americans (yes, even Christians!) must respect. Frankly, I’m surprised Fox News hasn’t gotten ahold of this story yet and started telling the world that California is discriminating against Christians.

  6. Linda says:

    I did not know this cross was cut down by vandals, how sad! I understand everyone has their own opinions about it but for me it was the place I married my husband over 40 years ago. I still go by and look at the place where the cross used to be.

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