Thursday, March 31, 2011

03-30-11: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Yesterday, I commenced my mission to visit all of the Orange County sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, some which are also California Historical Landmarks. It was fitting to begin with Mission San Juan Capistrano (CHL #200, NRHP #71000170), seventh in the chain of Franciscan missions here in Alta California, named for an Italian crusader. It holds the distinction of having been founded twice, once in 1775 by Padre Fermín Lasuén and revived in 1776 by Padre Junipero Serra, to serve the Acagchemem (Juaneño) Indian population. The mission declined during the later Spanish colonial period and was all but abandoned after Mexico secularized it. However, in 1865, under the United States, control reverted back to the Roman Catholic Church, and the long restoration process began.

Like other Orange Countians, I’ve visited the mission a number of times, including within the last year. But this time was unique because I saw the mission entirely through a camera lens, that is, viewfinder. The second picture (below) depicts the “Apostle of California” embracing a Juaneño boy, a tribute to the early proselytizing efforts and the site’s continued educational role as a popular field trip stop and parochial school location. In the background are the ruins of the Great Stone Church, destroyed by the 1812 earthquake. Unfortunately, the sun was in a terrible spot for photographing the inside.

Recently, a docent pointed out two spots of paint remains that had largely gone unnoticed by visitors. [Edit - I've been informed that it's oxidized copper. Duh! Sorry about that.] I was happy to have caught both on camera.

The crows finally cooperated for a shot with the infamous church bells.

And for once, the cemetery was empty and quiet. The large marker (foreground left) is for Monsignor Saint John O'Sullivan, the man responsible for leading much of the restoration efforts. The tombstone (background center) is for Don José Antonio Yorba I, a member of Gaspar de Portolà’s 1769 expedition. I – along with maybe 0.75 million other people – live on his Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, better known today as Central Orange County.

The original 1782 church features a beautiful Baroque alter imported from Spain along with hundreds of restored paintings and other decorations. Yesterday, as usual, there was someone kneeling at prayer. The chapel certainly isn’t at risk of losing its standing as the oldest building in California continuously being used.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful grounds enclosed by the chapel, barracks, kitchens, and storerooms.

The basilica’s main rotunda and bell tower (background left) can be seen beyond. Built in 1984, the Mission Basilica now features a stunning new gold retablo, but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. (I personally preferred its minimalist old look, but it’s now probably a more accurate copy of the Great Stone Church.)

Archaeological excavations in 1935 uncovered evidence of early industry during the mission period. The tallow cooking stoves were used to melt beef fat, eventually turning it into a more functional form useful for making household products.

In 1988, the metalworking furnaces, the oldest in the state, became an ASM Historical Landmark. The site introduced the production of wrought iron to an exclusively stone-age culture.

This mission is the site of Alta California’s first winery, the Criollo grape having been planted there. Although this wine vat might look like it’s outside, excavations in the 1980s have shown that it was once an indoor stomping ground.

That about wraps up my latest visit to the mission. It’s a stop on future tours, so more will come as things progress.

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