We have been fortunate to have visited a number of the 21 missions in California, and the most impressive--thus far--has been the Mission San Juan Capistrano located in the town of the same name.
This was the seventh mission founded by Father Junipero Serra (a statue of whom is in the right center of the photo, right). Founded in the year 1776, the mission is called the "Jewel of the Missions."
As we entered the courtyard, we passed the building (left) which housed the small number of soldiers assigned to protect the early missionaries, we could punch in the number of the building on our communicators and hear a description the building's use and anecdotes from long-time residents of the town.
These devices allowed us to walk the grounds in any order and listen to some or all of the two dozen descrip-tions. (The former community room [above] is where travelers were entertained. This is now a museum and gift shop.)
Walking around the beautifully landscaped courtyards, we thought that the mission's identity as the "jewel" was well-deserved. But the tour communicators, map, and helpful staff were essential complements to the architecture of the mission.
Looking over the shoulder of some plein air ("in the open air") artists, we saw that others wanted to capture on canvas the several sources of beauty in the courtyard.
This view of pillars with their slightly different colors of bricks and mortar revealed beauty in even the most simple aspects of the architecture.
The ivy-covered walls of the former warehouse, now used for classrooms and convent, provide a different "texture" to the exterior of the walls along the north corridor.
Much of the west corridor was devoted to all the workshops, the portion of which shown here was devoted to dyeing, weaving, and candle making.
The next four photos show portions of the entryways and doors along the walkway of the north and east corridors.
The covered areas of the walkway show the colors of the bricks and mortar in more muted tones.
Of all the missions we have visited, this one had the strongest impact on us. Having said that, I still have a difficult time explaining why or how. The 230-year-old buildings--in their original form, restored form, and patched portions--conveyed a sense of calmness and serenity.
This is a view of the courtyard, looking west from the east corridor and the Serra Chapel.
To the left in this photo is the entrance to the Serra Chapel, the oldest building in California. Due to our equipment malfunction, we do not have photos of the 300-year-old altar from Barcelona, Spain, or many of the original religious fixtures and Indian decorations.
"The most entrancing ruin on the North American continent" is how one California historian describes the ruins of the Great Stone Church. Construction began in 1797 on what must have been a magnificent structure. Built in the shape of a cross, its length was 175 feet and its width at the arms of the cross was 80 feet. The height of the bell tower was 125 feet.
Building the Great Stone Church took nine years, but six years after its comple-tion in 1806, it was destroyed by an earthquake. On December 8, 1812, the quake left the church in the condition seen in these two photos. Forty people were killed and only six escaped.
These four bells originally hung in the bell tower of the church.
By 1821, Mexico won its indepen-dence from Spain, which made Alta California a territory of Mexico. By 1834, the Mexican govern-ment decided to end the mission system entirely. Soon after the decree of secularization, or the ending of the missions, the land holdings of Mission San Juan Capistrano were divided and sold to 20 prominent California families. By 1845, Governor Pio Pico even sold the Mission itself. When the United States won the Mexican American War in 1848, California and other western territories were ceded to the United States.
California became a state in 1850, and President Lincoln later gave the missions back to the Catholic Church. By the 1870s and early 1900s, artists, photographers, and visionaries took interest in the abandoned missions. Father John O’Sullivan has been credited with leading the restoration work on the Mission San Juan Capis-trano.
And like the swallows which return annually on March 19, I think we will return.