Monday, December 7, 2015

El Camino Real Part 4: Seven Missions on National Landmarks

"The missionaries had brought many new varieties of plants with them. Seeds of barley and oats began replacing native grasses that were being grazed by cattle and sheep. These hitch-hikers are responsible for our “golden California."
- from Cerritos Library Archives

Back in the 1960s, I had a business privilege to frequent southern California from New York, though on red-eye flights. San Juan Capistrano is just about midway between LAX and San Diego to stop for a coffee break. The Mission is right off the highway ramp. That was my first visit to a historical mission, nicknamed “mission of swallows”, and I was overwhelmed. It was the only remaining chapel Padre Serra held mass in, and there were some adobes surviving earthquake country. Then I moved with my family to San Diego and lived there for over 20 years after the mid 70s. I often brought visitors there from Japan when going to and from LAX.

There are no questions all 21 missions are on the list of California Historical Landmarks; Seven of the 21 are specifically on the list of National Landmarks. Let me introduce the seven missions, together with their respective nicknames.

1. San Diego, Mother of the Missions
The present church was constructed in early 1800 is the fourth one with renovations continuing thereafter. The site was chosen by Fr. Serra because of a reliable source of water, fertile land and its proximity to indigenous Kumeyaay Indians. Incredible was the uprising story of the Indians that brought loss of the original mission and Martyr Luis Jayme. The dazzlingly white wall shines with colorful bougainvillea like butterflies under a blue sky. It is always nice to return to the park with visitors.

2. San Luis Rey, King of the Missions
This is home to California’s first pepper tree and my most favorite mission as it is fairly close to San Diego where we lived. Named for Louis IX, crusading King of France, the cross-shaped mission is the most graceful one, built by architecturally oriented Fr. Fermin Lasuen. The grounds are huge and gorgeous and well kept, picture perfect everywhere you look. Time stands still for just a bit when you are here. No wonder it still belongs to the Franciscans.

3. Santa Barbara, Queen of the Missions
My wife and I became routine commuters to Santa Barbara when my daughter’s family had an apartment at the UC Santa Barbara graduates campus complex. The hospital where my granddaughter was born was close to the Mission. Eventually this granddaughter graduated from UCSB. We are unable to think of their family affairs without picturing the mission on the hill. We immediately visualize the Greco-Roman styled front, the unique two matching bell towers, the fountain and the lavadero. It was the most successful mission which had rapprochement (a place of harmonious meetings; detente) with the indigenous Chumash Indians.

4. Carmel, Father of the Missions
Basilica Carmel is literally the crown jewel of all California missions, the most beautiful and the most favorite of its founder Fr. Serra. Impressive and unique are the asymmetrical bell tower, star-shaped window, and Gothic arch ceiling. The recent $5.5 million restoration won the prestigious award endowed to religious/cultural endeavors. In his austere cell, Fr. Serra kept a modest desk and chair, and a pitiful wooden sheet bed.

5. Santa Ines, Mission of the Passes
This mission is smaller than the other missions and has bucolic scenes with the long stretch of hills in the background. The mission experienced hard times and overcame Indian rebellions and upheavals. The Danish town of Solvang was built up around the Santa Ines Mission in the early 1900s.

6. La Purisima (no nick name)
This is the biggest mission of all and is located about 2 miles northeast of Lompoc. La Purísima Mission State Historic Park is considered the most completely restored mission in California, with ten of the original buildings fully restored and furnished, including the church, shops, living quarters, and blacksmith shop. The mission gardens and livestock represent what would have been found at the mission during the 1820's. Special living history events are scheduled throughout the year.

7. San Juan Batista, Mission of the Music
This mission is closer to Hollister, California and adjacent to the San Andreas Fault. I haven’t visited this famous mission, where Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo” was shot on location in 1958. It was built by Fr. Estevan Tapis, with a special talent for music, who taught singing to Indians. The Mission had been rescued by the Hearst Foundation.

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