This weekend I went to the old Mission at San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, thinking it might be decked out for Christmas. With the exception of the manger scene, there wasn't much of a holiday touch, but it's a fascinating place nevertheless--one of my favorites, especially in Spring when all the roses are in bloom.
Unlike many other places in California, San Juan is one of those unusual places that is comfortable with its own history. History and modern life intersect and respect each other. The modern day town has preserved the original main street adobe buildings and the historic Los Rios residential area, the oldest residential neighborhood in California.The buildings are still in commercial use today. The Mission, the center of the town, was built in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. Building on the Great Stone Church began in 1797 and took nine years. For some time, it was the largest building west of the Mississippi. On December 8, 1812, on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, an earthquake struck during morning Mass, killing 42 Indian worshippers. The church was never rebuilt, but you can see from its remains that it was a very impressive structure. The Serra Chapel which was completed in 1788 is the only original mission church in California still standing in which Father Serra is known to have celebrated the sacraments. It has a unique altar that was brought all the way from Barcelona. The altar, estimated to be over 400 years old, is hand-carved and covered in gold leaf. The Serra Chapel is still in use although most worshippers attend the Mission Basillica which is adjacent to the mission.
I didn't mean to start off on a history lesson. The mission has too many stories to tell. Perhaps that's why I found myself so fascinated by the windows, doors, and archways that face out onto the courtyard. They seem like magic portals to the past.