Blanketed in the first snow of the season, La Santisima Trinidad radiates hope to the surrounding community of Arroyo Seco, New Mexico. Built in 1834, the historic church stands as a monument to the families who originally settled the area. That the Catholic faith thrived during a period when there were very few priests available to serve the faithful in the rural southwest, is hope to us in these uncertain political times here in the United States.
The ancient brotherhood of the penitentes is primarily responsible for nurturing the faith during this period, though their methods came under scrutiny by church authorities. Nevertheless, despite the severity of some of their practices, there continue to be many Catholics in the mountains and plains of Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.
On the day we visited La Santisima Trinidad, we found the church was locked. No one came forth to open it, so we explored. We enjoyed wandering the churchyard and examining the grave markers. They fill the area around the church. The building has obviously been lovingly restored. Learn more about that at the following link for inside pics. Several well-placed benches hint at a pleasant garden in warmer seasons.
Click here to see some lovely pictures of the inside of La Santisima Trinidad:
Once the snow flies and cabin fever sets in, a day trip towards Taos, New Mexico is always fun. Just 80 miles from Santa Fe, the Arroyo Seco area is full of historic sites, alternative housing, and breathtaking scenery. The town of Arroyo Seco, just 7 miles from Taos, hosts a number of boutiques and several eating establishments. Plenty of activity to satisfy the casual tourist despite inclement weather.
Nearly 10 years ago, when I came to El Santuario Chimayo on pilgrimage, it was undergoing major restoration, inside and out. When I returned this past spring, I was impressed with sweet smelling, flowering trees lining spacious courtyards. Restored signage clearly indicates Mass times and Historic information.
Original window gratings and adobe bricks are left exposed in areas, to show the original building style.
A walk through the visitor’s center tells the story of how the Santuario de Nuestro Senor de Esquipulas came to be, the story of the penitente brotherhood and the early church in New Mexico. I reflect upon how much of that early spirituality still pervades the local and surrounding areas, even into Southern Colorado.
Today we are just in time for Mass.Father Casimiro Roca who has spent so much of his life devoted to the preservation of the Santuario is there with us. He now walks across the uneven flagstones with the assistance of a cane and a caregiver.
Outside, cattle graze in the valley below. Their gentle lowing makes me homesick for my little ranch. But I have given up my livestock for this life on the road. I smile at sweet memories and new adventures. From the upper courtyard, I can see the amphitheater below, in front of the shrine to Our Lady. The Stations of the Cross still meander along the river bank.
Today we are more inclined to check out the surrounding area. Tamales and hot drinks are sounding good, but alas, Leona’s concession stand is closed today. We continue up the road to see if we can patronize some of the local businesses that thrive during the tourist season. Maybe we’ll get some chile powder made from the famous New Mexico chiles, or blue atole – blue cornmeal which iscooked into a delicious cereal or drink.
Santa Ines was expected to become the most successful of the missions. Due to a series of unfortunate events, this did not happen.
First, the Hidalgo uprising of 1810, gave Mexico its independence from Spain. And then, the great earthquake of 1812 devastated all the missions. Finally, the secularization of 1834 did not give the new mission much time to live up to its promise.
In the few years it did have, the mission saw over 1,000 baptisms and hundreds of marriages. It boasts some of the earliest industrial sites in California.
Joseph Chapman was a craftsman from Maine. In 1818 he sailed west to Hawaii. The Argentine pirate, Hippolyte de Bouchard, forced him into service on his crew. When Bouchard stopped to raid the Ortega Ranch, near the mission, several crewmembers were captured as well as several soldiers.
In the exchange of prisoners, Chapman was overlooked or refused and remained in the custody of the soldiers. When the new governor discovered Chapman’s mechanical inclination and craftsmanship, he pardoned him. Chapman was turned over to the padres at Mission Santa Ines.
Consequently, Chapman studied and embraced the Catholic faith. He went on to design and build a New England-style fulling mill, which the padres had long envisioned, for treating woolen cloth. In addition, he married a daughter of the Ortega family, whose ranch he had helped to raid. They settled near the mission, continuing his work there.
La Purisima has had massive restoration due to federal and state funding. Yet, Mission Santa Ines has had to rely on the generosity of visitors and benefactors. It has been in continuous use, serving the surrounding community of Solvang, a Danish colony established over 100 years after the founding of the mission.
Danish settlers wanted to train young Danish Americans and preserve their lifestyle. The idea worked. Visitors to Solvang can marvel at Danish architecture, costume, handcrafts and hospitality while wandering the streets and cobblestone alleys of the town. You might even catch some of the locals speaking the language.
The fragrance of thousands of blooms fills the air, floating on a cool ocean breeze. The ruins of a magnificent cathedral give proud testimony to a transforming faith. Is this Greece? Turkey? Egypt? No. This is the coast of Southern California, and the ruins are the Great Stone Church of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
This journey was more like a family fun day. We boarded the Amtrak Coaster in San Diego, found some seats with a table, and ate our lunch. In Oceanside, we switched to the Pacific Surfliner, for the short hop to San Juan Capistrano. The mission is a pleasant stroll from the station, past upscale eateries, and through enticing boutiques and galleries. This location was likely as alluring in 1775 when the Jewel of the Missions was established, as it is today. The Mission was immediately successful.
The Great Stone Church, begun in 1797, boasted 8 domes and an arched roof. Less than ten years after its completion, the devastating 1812 earthquake struck, during Mass, killing 40 people. One dome and the sanctuary wall still stand, and on occasion a reclusive artist can be found in its shadow, capturing the haunting and beautiful architecture on canvas.
The fabulous Mission bells, which welcome the swallows back to their mud nests in the old stone church every spring, have their own story. Eight days after Fr. Fermin Lasuen’s party arrived in 1775 to establish the mission here, Indians attacked the mission at San Diego, killing the padre there. The bells were quickly buried and the party fled to the presidio. The following year, when Fr. Serra arrived, the bells were found, undisturbed. They were hung from trees until the 120-foot bell tower in the Great Stone Church was completed and they hung there until they were damaged in the 1812 earthquake. Recast in the year 2000, they once again celebrate the St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) return of their old friends, the swallows.
Adding insult to injury, only six years after the earthquake, the pirate Hippolyte Bouchard attacked the Mission. After sacking the town for food and provisions, the mission’s winery was discovered, and revelry ensued until the wine store was depleted. The pirates moved on. A large brick wine vat is pictured below, center. The Pirate Festival is one of many historical reenactments held yearly at the Mission.
San Juan Capistrano is probably one of the best and longest restored of the missions. While excavations as early as the 1930’s turned up tallow vats used for making soap and candles, dyeing vats for dyeing wool and furnaces for forging metal tools and hardware were also discovered. In addition, the restored industrial center is a tribute to the engineering skills and the building efficiency of the Franciscan missionaries.
The mission had to grow all its own food, and the active garden displays are interesting. Also of note, young Indian boys operated the olive mill stone and the grist mill; the stones pressed oil from mission olives and ground grain for flour.
Father Serra’s Chapel is the original mission church. It withstood the 1812 earthquake and was once again used as the mission church after the Great Stone Church fell. The chapel got its name because it is the only surviving church where the mission presidente said Mass. Ongoing conservation efforts in 2008 will be focusing on the 400-year-old hand carved retablo with gold leaf overlay, from Barcelona, Spain.
The mission still ministers to the spiritual needs of thousands of Southern Californians and tourists. A replica Basilica stands nearby and functions as the parish church. But something is always happening at the Mission itself. The second Saturday each month is Living History Day, with re-enactments, demonstrations, and costumes from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Concerts include the Capistrano Valley Symphony Pops, Jazz, Swing and Classic Rock Bands.
With vistas of rocky beaches, farms, sandy beaches, and ranches, the drive to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park from Los Angeles reminds me of everything I like about Southern California. Entering the park itself is like stepping back in time.
Sheep and goats fill the corrals, turkeys gobble, and horses graze. We look around for an Indian shepherd, or a neophyte coming to gather the dried hides to be tanned, but apparently this is a non-living history day. The pastoral quiet is soothing.
Because it is a State Historic Park, La Purisima receives grant funding and has enjoyed massive restoration. Beginning in 1935, the California Conservation Corps performed painstaking research. CCC completely restored the buildings using the original construction methods, adobe bricks, clay tiles, handmade furniture.
Many living history events are held here throughout the year. This gives visitors the opportunity to see first-hand what life was like when the mission was at its peak. Docents and reenactors demonstrate mission crafts and skills. From grinding corn and making tortillas, to spinning wool and soap and candle making, everything is produced by the mission.
The tallow vats above were used to melt animal fat in preparation for making soap and candles. An abalone shell to hold holy water at the entrance to the church is representative of California’s coastal bounty. The church itself is sparse, much as it must have been when the 11th Mission was founded and the faithful stood and knelt or sat on the bare floor.
Extreme would be the word to describe the history of La Purisima. The mission was founded on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1797. In just one year, there were over 900 residents. Construction began on a new church but by 1804, the neophyte population had reached 1,520.
Scandal is nothing new to the Catholic Church. Accusations of mistreatment of the indians brought an investigation of the Franciscan padres and the military by the Spanish Governor. The accusations proved unfounded.
Extreme disaster followed extreme prosperity. In 1804, death and disease began to claim the lives of the Indian converts. The massive earthquake of 1812, followed by heavy rains, leveled the mission and its outbuildings.
Due to the devastation of the original mission, the padres relocated the new mission to the north. The new construction marked a departure from the traditional quadrangle mission plan. Laying the buildings out in a line worked better with the natural contours of the land. This allowed for a quick escape as well as preserving the farmland. As a result, extreme prosperity returned.
Because of the direction of Father Mariano Payeras, the mission continued to enjoy peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, after his death in 1823, the Chumash began to revolt against the military. Finally, the Mexican government took control of the property in 1834.
The government sold La Purisima at auction and as a result, the mission fell into ruin.
Fortunes began to improve in 1903 when then owner Union Oil Company realized that the mission grounds were an important part of history. Remarkably, the company donated much of the land to the State of California and restoration began.
Today, La Purisima Mission is building a new Visitor Center Complex. It will include a museum, exhibits and gift shop. The Mission offers many school programs and activities, as well as numerous living history events and an annual art show and sale.