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Mission #1—Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, San Diego, CA

Louise Speaks:  Thelma and I just can’t travel, we always have to have a project or something to complete.  In Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, she has a listing called “The California Mission Trail”.  The Spanish Missions in California comprise of a series of 21 religious outposts; established by Catholic priests  of the Franciscan  order between 1769 and 1833, to expand Christianity  among the Native Americans.  The missions starting in San Diego going northwards to Sonoma, became what is today the  state of California.  There are more missions south of San Diego, but those are in Mexico so not part of the California Mission Trail.  These 21 missions are not in order from south to north, they are numbered by when they were established.  So as we go on the Mission Trail from south to north, you will see we are not seeing them in order.  The missions follow the coastal highway dubbed the “El Camino Real” which is Spanish for the “Royal Road”.  These missions are considered the most beautiful buildings in California and the most historical sites in the country.

Today we are visiting the first mission, and the one furthest south.  This makes number 5 for us out of the 21 missions to see.   This first mission marks the birthplace of Christianity in the west coast of the United States.   This remarkable and significant historical shrine provides an understanding and appreciation of the beginning of Catholicism in this corner of the world, so remote from the Mother Country of Spain and yet so similar.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was founded on July 16, 1769 by Spanish friar Junipero Serra in an area long inhabited by the island.  The mission and the surrounding area were named for the Catholic didacus of Alcala,  a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego.  The mission was the site of the first Christian burial in Alta California.  San Diego is also generally regarded as the site of the region’s first public execution, in 1778.   Father Luis Jayme, California’s first Christian martyr, lies entombed beneath the chancel  floor.  The current church is the fifth to stand on this location.  The Mission is also a National Historic Landmark.

Relatively, much is known about the native inhabitants in recent centuries, thanks in part to the efforts of the Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo, who documented his observations of life in the coastal villages he encountered along the Southern California coast in October 1542.  Cabrillo, a  navigator in the service of Spain, is credited with the discovery of the San Diego Bay.   On the evening of September 28, 1542 the ships San Salvador and Victoria sailed into the harbor, whereupon Cabrillo christened it “San Miguel.” During that expedition a landing party went ashore and briefly interacted with a small group of natives.  Some sixty years later another Spanish explorer,  made landfall some ten miles from the present Mission site.  Tres Reyes dropped anchor on November 10, 1602, and the port was renamed “San Diego de Alcalá.”   It woulld be another 167 years before the Spanish returned to San Diego. Ever since the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the Kingdom of Spain  sought to establish missions to convert the land to Roman Catholicism to save souls, and in part, to facilitate colonization  of these lands.  However, it was not until 1741 when the territorial ambitions towards North America became known that King Philip V  felt such installations were necessary in Upper California.

In 1769,  General  Jose de Galvez  sent the expedition of Junipero Serra  to find missions in San Diego and Monterey,  thereby securing Spain’s claim to the Pacific Coast  harbors recommended by Cabrillo,.  Two groups traveled from Lower California on foot, while a pair of packet ships bearing supplies  traveled up the coast from the Baja California Peninsula.  Many members of the overland expeditions fell ill along the way, and a majority of the crews from both ships contracted scurvy during their voyages,  In all, over a hundred men, including the crew of a third ship, died.  Portolà and the “Sacred Expedition” continued on to Monterey Bay  on July 14,  and just two days later, on July 16, a cross was raised and Father Serra held the first Holy Mass, praying for the Pope  and the King of Spain and the Mission San Diego de Alcalá was officially founded.

The padres’ initial efforts to establish an outpost at the San Diego met with little success. The Mission was founded at a site overlooking the Bay, but the natives  resented the Spaniards’ intrusion, and the settlement was attacked within a month.  By the first few months of 1770, food had run low, no permanent buildings were erected, and there had yet to be a single conversion.  Four soldiers, eight  volunteers,  one servant, and six Christian  Indians from Lower California had died from scurvy  since the expedition’s arrival;  serious consideration was therefore given to abandoning the site and returning to the Baja settlements.  It was therefore determined that, if a supply ship did not arrive by March 19, Saint Joseph’s Day,  the expedition would be recalled.  Father Serra feared that if San Diego were abandoned,  centuries might come and go before the country would again be revisited.  Finally, just before sunset on the 19th,  the San Antonio entered the harbor.  The ship had been bound for Monterey to deliver supplies to the expedition waiting there, but had lost one of its anchors and was forced to make port in San Diego, where a spare anchor from the San Carlos could be retrieved.  With the settlement in San Diego now properly outfitted with supplies, the missionaries set about constructing permanent buildings and  in 1773 the site of California’s first Christian burial.   The Mission was relocated to its present location  in August 1774.  The lack of a dependable water supply, coupled with the proximity of the military personnel at the presidio led Father  Luis Jayme to seek permission to relocate the mission from its original site, to the valley some six miles upriver to the east, where it remains today.  Almost immediately there was a noticeable increase in the number of baptisms, which in 1775 totaled 431 compared to 274 for the preceding four years combined.

The baptistry is one of only two sections of the original Mission Basilica still standing from the original construction in the late 18th century.  The restoration project, which began in 2011, was made possible by generous donations.  The restoration project began with an artist painting the baptistry and incorporating the symbols of baptism  such as blue for water and a shell.  Next came the decision as to what to do with the font itself.  The original baptismal font associated with the Mission is a portable copper vessel with a floral, petal motif on the lid that is now in the museum.  When the Mission church was restored in the 1930’s, the baptistry did not have a font.  It was not until the 1970’s that the current baptismal font was added.  The font is a replica of the stone basin from the Church of St. Peter  in Petra, Mallorca, Spain.  The Petra font was where Father Junipero Serra was baptized in 1713.  The original font from Serra’s baptismal place has a copper top that would cover the stone basin.

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The bells at mission San Diego de Alcala were vital and important to daily mission life.  There were five bells arranged in two rows of two bells and one row of one bell.  The bells were rung at important events of the day such as mealtimes, to call mission residents to work, during a birth of a child or death/funeral of a resident.  The bells were also used to signal the approach of a ship or other artical, and were also rung for  rituals.

Much happened in history over the next 150 years.  On August 9, 1834 Governor Figueroa issued his “Decree of Confiscation.”  The missions were offered for sale to citizens, who were unable to come up with the price, so all mission property was broken up into ranchos  and given to ex-military officers who had fought in the War of Independence against Spain.  On June 8, 1846 Mission San Diego de Alcalá was given to Santiago Arguello  by Governor Pio Pico for servcices rendered to the government.  After the United States annexed California,  the Mission was used by the military from 1846 to 1862.  In 1848, after the Mexican American War, the United States Army occupied the mission grounds until 1858.  The Army made numerous modifications on the mission grounds, including the conversion of the church into a two-story building, and the establishment of a military cemetery.    President Abraham Lincoln  signed a proclamation on May 23, 1862 that restored ownership of the Mission proper to the Roman Catholic Church.  Following the Army occupation, the mission fell into ruin, and remained abandoned until 1891 when Father Antonio Dominic Ubach and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet moved the Saint Anthony’s Industrial School for Indian children from Old Town San Diego to the mission grounds.   In the 1880s Father Anthony Ubach  began to restore the old Mission buildings.  Father Ubach died in 1907 and restoration work ceased until 1931.  Upon Father Ubachs death, the school at the mission closed  and was moved to Banning, California.  Two dormitories were built for the students of Saint Anthony’s, one of which exists today as the Religious Education Center of Mission San Diego de Alcalá.   In 1941, the Mission once again became a parish  church and is still an active parish serving the Diocese of San Diego.  As most Catholics know, a church becomes a Basilica when the Pope conducts mass in the church.   In 1976, Pope Paul VI held mass here and designated the Mission church as a basilica.

The mission is kept alive through donations and proceeds from a small gift shop on site.  Many tourists, like us, visit the mission every day.  Every year the missions are  visited by thousands of fourth graders from throughout the state studying California history.  I know 4 of my grand children have visited at least one mission.  My daughter tried to arrange it so that as each child reached 4th grade they would visit a different mission.  Many of the missions are within miles of each other so it is very easy to visit more than one mission per day.  This journey has been very adventurous, and although the missions are so similar they are all different and unique in their own way.  I can’t wait to get on to the next one.

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Mission #17—Mission San Fernando Rey de España, Mission Hills, CA

Louise Speaks:  Thelma and I just can’t travel, we always have to have a project or something to complete.  In Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, she has a listing called “The California Mission Trail”.  The Spanish Missions in California comprise of a series of 21 religious outposts; established by Catholic priests  of the Franciscan  order between 1769 and 1833, to expand Christianity  among the Native Americans.  The missions starting in San Diego going northwards to Sonoma, became what is today the  state of California.  There are more missions south of San Diego, but those are in Mexico so not part of the California Missions.  These 21 missions are not in order from south to north, they are numbered by when they were established.  So as we go on the Mission Trail from south to north, you will see we are not seeing them in order.  The missions follow the coastal highway dubbed the “El Camino Real” which is Spanish for the “Royal Road”.  These missions are considered the most beautiful buildings in California and the most historical sites in the country.

100_2359Mission San Fernando Rey de España is a Spanish mission  in the Mission Hills100_9960  district of Los Angeles.  The mission was founded on September 8, 1797, and was the seventeenth of the twenty-one Spanish missions established.  Named for Saint Ferdinand, the mission is the namesake of the nearby city of San Fernando and the San Fernando Valley.  The mission was secularized in 1834 and returned to the Catholic Church in 1861; it became a working church in 1920.  In 1769, the Spanish expedition, of the first Europeans to see inland areas of California, traveled north through the San Fernando Valley.   On August 7 they camped at a watering place near where the mission was later established in 1888.   A Franciscan missionary traveling with the expedition, noted in his diary that the camp was “at the foot of the mountains”.  This prime location the padre selected, had been occupied by Francisco Reyes, the then Los Angeles’ mayor.  However, after brief negotiations construction of the first buildings was soon underway.  Mission records list Reyes as Godfather to the first infant baptized at the San Fernando Mission.  The first marriage at San Fernando Rey took place in 1797.  It was held in a little arbor on the property as the first church wasn’t completed until 1799.

20170121_142420The goals of the missions were, first, to spread the message of Christianity and, osecond, to establish a Spanish colony.  Because of the difficulty of delivering supplies by sea, the missions had to become self-sufficient in relatively short order.  Toward that end, neophytes were taught European-style farming, animal husbandry, mechanical arts and lw2720a_largedomestic crafts.  I’ve mentioned before the importance of the bells at each and every mission.  As stated in previous posts, bells were vitally important to daily life at any mission.  The bells were rung at mealtimes, to call the Mission residents to work and to religious services.  The bells were also rung during births and funerals, to signal the approach of a ship or a returning missionary.  Missionaries learned the rituals associated with the ringing the mission bell very early.  In 1920, a hundred pound bell was unearthed in an orange grove near the Mission .  It carried the following inscription, translated from Russian:  “In the Year 1796, in the month of January, this bell was cast on the Island of Kodiak by the blessing of Archimandrite Joaseph, during the sojourn of Alessandr Baranov”.   To this day, it is not known how this Russian Orthodox  artifact from Kodiak, Alaska,  made its way to a Catholic mission in Southern California.

corridor_at_mission_san_fernando_rey_de_espanaOn March 8, 1842 Francisco Lopez, a majordomo on one of the mission ranches, discovered gold particlessan_fernando_rey_de_espana_circa_1900_keystone-mast clinging to the roots of wild onion bulbs in Placentia Canyon.  The gold petered out in four years, but this was the earliest gold strike in California.  For years thereafter, treasure seekers dug up the mission’s adobe walls and floors to find the gold they mistakenly thought the padres had hidden. The elaborate altar and pulpit are carved from walnut and date to 1687.  They were originally installed in the chapel of St. Philip Neri at Ezcaray, Spain, and reassembled in part at the San Fernando Mission by California missionaries of the Diocese of Monterey.  The Convento or Long Building, built in 1822, served as the padre’s quarters and as a guest-house.  A colonnade with nineteen arches borders the full length of the building, which measures 243′ x 50′.  Here are before and after pictures that still show the nineteen arches.

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100_2347The Mission was utilized in a number of ways during the late 19th century.  North of the mission was the site of Lopez Station for the Butterfield Stage Lines.  It also served as a warehouse for the Porter Land and Water Company; and in 1896, the quadrangle was used as a hog farm.   In 1861 the Mission buildings and 75 acres of land were returned to the church, after requested actions for preservation.  Restoration of the church was financed in part in 1916 by the sale of thousands of candles at $1.00 apiece.  The buildings were disintegrating, as beams, tiles and nails were taken from the church by settlers.  San Fernando’s church became a working church again in 1923 when the new priests arrived.  Many attempts were made to restore the old Mission from the early 20th century, but it was not until the Hearst Foundation  gave a large gift of money in the 1940s, that the Mission was finally restored.  The museum became the repository for heirlooms of the Mexican church , and also holds part of the Doheny library.  The church was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in100_9964 100_99651971, but was extensively damaged by the 1971 San Fernando earthquake,  and was completely rebuilt.  Repairs were completed in 1974.  It continues to be very well cared for and is still used as a chapel-of-ease.  The Convento Building  was separately listed on the National Register in 1988.  In 2003 comedian Bob Hope was interred in the Bob Hope Memorial Gardens; followed by his widow Dolores Hope in 2011.  There are many other Hope gravestones, and many empty plots for other members of the Hope family.

100_2366Today the mission grounds function as a museum.  The church is a chapel of ease of the Archdiocese 100_2368of Los Angeles.  The Bob Hope Garden is nicer than any of the Hollywood Cemetery’s we visited before.  What a great legacy to leave for his family to know they will all be together in this gorgeous, peaceful place.

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Mission #4—Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, San Gabriel, CA

Louise Speaks:  Thelma and I just can’t travel, we always have to have a project or something to complete.  In Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, she has a listing called “The California Mission Trail”.  The Spanish Missions in California comprise of a series of 21 religious outposts; established by Catholic priests  of the Franciscan  order between 1769 and 1833, to expand Christianity  among the Native Americans.  The missions starting in San Diego going northwards to Sonoma, became what is today the  state of California.  There are more missions south of San Diego, but those are in Mexico so not part of the California Missions.  These 21 missions are not in order from south to north, they are numbered by when they were established.  So as we go on the Mission Trail from south to north, you will see we are not seeing them in order.  The missions follow the coastal highway dubbed the “El Camino Real” which is Spanish for the “Royal Road”.  These missions are considered the most beautiful buildings in California and the most historical sites in the country.

mission_san_gabriel_4-15-05_6611The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is a fully functioning Roman Catholic Mission100_2338 and a historic landmark in San Gabriel California.  The settlement was founded by Spaniards  of the Franciscan order on “The Feast of the Birth of Mary”,  September 8, 1771, as the fourth of what would become 21 Missions in California.   San Gabriel Arcángel, was named after the Archangel Gabriel  and often referred to as the “Godmother of the Pueblo of Los Angeles”.  The Mission, built of stone, brick, and mortar, is one of the best-preserved of all the Mission, with its picturesque buttresses and lofty walls.  Originally, the church had an arched roof, but an earthquake in 1804 damaged the building so much that the arches had to be torn down and a new roof substituted.  In 1812, another earthquake demolished the bell tower and was replaced by a campanile at the other end of the church.  Its massive strength is due to the basic, but effective, engineering skills of the early builders.  In the tower are six bells of heavy san-gabriel-bellsdesign dating from 1795 to the 1830’s. The capped buttresses and the tall, narrow windows are unique among the missions of the California chain.  The planned site for the Mission was along the banks of the Río de los Temblores, the River of the Earthquakes or the Santa Ana River.  The priests chose an alternate site on a fertile plain located directly alongside the Rio Hondo in the Whittier Narrows.   In 1776, a flash flood destroyed much of the crops and ruined the Mission complex, which was subsequently relocated five miles closer to the mountains in present-day San Gabriel. The Mission is the base from which the pueblo that became the city of Los Angels was sent.  On December 9, 1812, the “Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin”, a series of massive earthquakes shook Southern California. The 1812 Wrightwood earthquake  caused the three-bell tower, located adjacent to the chapel’s east façade, to collapse.  While no pictorial record exists to document what the original structure looked like, architectural historians  documented the design and published a description in the 1916 work The Franciscan Mission Architecture of California.

a-sg-mission-chapel-1aThe altar is original and was handcrafted in Mexico City, and brought to the Mission in

The picture is on the left side of the altar just above the white cloth

The picture is on the left side of the altar just above the white cloth and below the hanging light fixture.

the 1790’s.  The six polychrome wooden statues were hand carved in Spain, and they were brought around the Horn in 1791.  These statues were restored to their original beauty after the earthquake of 1987.  Legend has it that the founding expedition was confronted by a large group of native peoples whose intention was to drive the strangers away. One of the priests laid a painting of “Our Lady of Sorrows” on the ground for all to see, whereupon the natives, designated by the settlers as the Gabrieliños, immediately made peace with the missionaries, because they were so moved by the painting’s beauty.  Today the 300-year-old work hangs in front of and slightly to the left of the old high altar  in the Mission’s sanctuary.  A large stone cross stands in the center of the   cemetery. It100_2333 was first consecrated in 1778 and then again on January 29, 1939 by the Los Angeles Archbishop . The cross serves as the final resting place for some 6,000 “neophytes.” A small stone marker denotes the gravesite of

The painting on the wall is being restored, but the bench is in plain view.

The painting on the wall is being restored, but the bench is in plain view.

 

 

José de Los Santos, the last American Indian to be buried on the grounds, at the age of 101 in February 1921.  Also interred at the Mission are the bodies of numerous Franciscan  priests who died during their time of service, as well as the remains of Reverend Raymond Catalan, C.M.F., who undertook the restoration of the Mission’s gardens. Entombed at the foot of the altar are the remains of eight Franciscan priests.  Buried among the priests is centenarian Eulalia Perez de Guillen Marine,   the “keeper of the keys” under Spanish rule; her grave is marked by a bench100_9942 dedicated in her memory.  Walking through these mission cemeteries is quite interesting, and the dates are not all that old, which means they are still burying priest at the missions.

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Within the Mission is the baptistery.  The floor, walls and domed ceiling are original.  Here rests the hand hammered copper baptismal font, which was a personal gift from King Carlos III of Spain.  Also, is the same sterling silver baptismal shell carried by the founding fathers over 200 years ago, from which in November 1771, the first Tongva child received Baptism, just as the latest first born of today’s parishioners do.  Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain.  In its heyday it furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California.   A majority of the Mission structures fell into ruins after it was secularized  in November 1834.  The once-extensive vineyards were falling to decay, with fences broken down and animals roaming freely through it.  The Mission’s chapel functioned as a parish  church for the City of San Gabriel from 1862 until 1908, when the Missionaries  came to San Gabriel and began the job of rebuilding and restoring the Mission.  On October 1, 1987 the Whittier Narrows earthquake damaged the property.  A significant portion of the original complex has since been restored.  Bells were important to daily life at any mission. They were rung to mark mealtimes, to call the Mission residents to work and to religious services, to mark births and funerals, to signal the approach of a ship or returning missionary, and at other times; novices were instructed in the intricate rituals associated with the ringing of the mission bells.  The mission bells were also used to tell time.  If you notice, Catholic Churches today still ring bells on the hour to tell time.  Other religions have followed this practice but ring the bells generally only at high noon.

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Today visitors can tour the church, museum and grounds.  The adobe museum building was built in 1812 and was originally used for sleeping quarters and book storage.  Exhibits include mission relics, books and religious artifacts.  The grounds feature operations from the original mission complex, including indoor and outdoor kitchens, winery, water cisterns, soap and candle vats, tanning vats for preparing cattle hides, and a cemetery. There are also a gift shops at the missions to help with the costs of maintaining the missions.  You will find objects for all the missions in each gift shop, but they do have more artifacts pertaining to the  mission on site.  Like I mentioned before, these missions are all very similar but yet so different and unique.  Each mission leaves you wanting to see the next one to compare and admire.

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