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Royal Presisio Chapel

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Joined: 27 Nov 2007
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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:15 pm    Post subject: Royal Presisio Chapel Reply with quote

OLD MONTEREY looks out upon a modern world with a sense of exaltation, in the possession of her old buildings and gardens, some of them witnesses to the rule of three nations—many, of two. Both groups heard the salute of twenty-one guns to the Stars and Stripes one July morning in '46, as the colors were run to the top of the old flagstaff beside the Customs House, when the Yankees captured the capital.

Forty-eight authentic structures of stone or adobe— beautiful in their simplicity and proportion, with their thick, whitewashed walls and red roofs, many of the houses balconied—are still standing. They are the heirlooms, not only of Monterey, nor of California, but of the nation. Indeed, the United States is physical owner of one, the Customs House, with its Plaza del Muelle— what the land-grabbers have left of it.

As curator of the Customs House Museum, meeting most of the visitors to Monterey Peninsula (and some of its residents), it is a simple matter to chart their landmark preferences.

They run in this order: The Royal Presidio Chapel of San Carlos (still bearing the misleading legend, "Mission" on its doors), Carmel Mission, Customs House, Stevenson House, Colton Hall, First Theater in California, Sherman Rose Adobe, Larkin House. The rest fall in line. In this order we shall talk about them.

Then there is the Presidio of Monterey, overlooking the town, its old Spanish-Mexican redoubts indicated by mortars at the outer edge. In the old days, El Castillo, the castle or the fort. What then was known as the Presidio was, as we have seen, the area that was surrounded by eighteen-foot adobe walls topped with tile, running roughly from Munras Avenue to El Estero, from Fremont to Pearl and east on Pearl to El Estero. Within it stood the Royal Presidio Chapel, the mansion of the governor at the west end, that of the lieutenant-governor at the east, the calaboose, corrals and storehouses along the north side, flanking the only entrance. It quite properly faced the bay. Here it was that the two six-pounders were mounted that shot it out with Bouchard's pirate-insurgents in 1818. Within the enclosure were the houses of the officers, soldiers and settlers.

The oldest building in the Old Capital is the Royal Presidio Chapel of San Carlos de Borromeo de Monterey, founded June 3, 1770, by Fathers Junipero Serra and Juan Crespi, Captain de Portola, Captain Rivera, Lieutenant Pedro Fages, and that great scout, Jose Francisco Ortega—he who covered the first overland march from Baja California to Monterey three times— forward to find the best trails through the wilderness, back to the company, and forward again with the ever-dwindling band of the First Pioneers.

The old church was originally intended to be the house of worship of the Mission of San Carlos. Unfavorable conditions made it expedient for Father Serra to establish the Mission over Calvary Hill, on the Rio Carmelo, where fresh water and arable lands were available, on which to establish the ranchos necessary to the education and support of the future Indian community. Whereat the church at the Port of Monterey became the Royal Presidio Chapel, devoted to the needs of the gente dertazon.

The church that is today serving God is the only Presidio chapel to survive from colonial days. Not even a wall of those at San Diego, San Francisco, or at Santa Barbara survives to bespeak their former prestige.

The picturesque stone church by El Estero, superseding the first primitive adobe church, was dedicated in 1795. From that day, the little red lamp in the sanctuary has never ceased to burn. So, from 1770 the church of San Carlos has carried on—the only sanctuary to have served from California's beginnings, without a break. The reason? Because Monterey was the capital of the province from the beginning, to the end of December, 1849. De facto from 1770; designated as such in 1776, with a resident governor from the spring of 1777. With Monterey the seat of government, the church thereof was spared the annihilation that fell upon the Mission sanctuaries.

The architectural characteristics of the church derive directly from Mexico, the fachada relating to the theatrical classic spirit prevailing in Mother Mexico at the time. The carvings over the side doorways, as well as the ornament over the main entrance, are distinctive features, but not comparable in beauty and richness to the carvings at Carmel Mission. The winding stone steps leading to the choir loft are characteristic.

The church was originally built in basilica form, as were most of the California Missions. In 1858, Fr. Juan Cornelias added the transept, and installed the Romanesque altar. Other changes followed, doing considerable violence to the original architectural plan of the Franciscan builders, notably the Gothic windows, carrying poorly designed stained glass. The objective seems to have been the obliteration of all evidence of its Hispanic origin and character. The tiled conical roof of the bell-tower is an incongruous modern concept, as is the tall, ivy-clad grilled iron gate.

One of the unchanged distinctive features of the old landmark is the quaint pavement in front of the church, made up of whalebones and small cobbles, a star the center of the design. Disastrous to high heels, but amusing to the sure-footed.

This most ancient church of unbroken service in California possesses a gradually growing museum of fine old embroidered vestments, old silver altar appurtenances of rare beauty, paintings, some of which are good examples of the religious art brought to California by the Franciscans. California's first collection of art. Due to the vigilance of Fr. James Culleton, D.D., the library once housed in Carmel Mission before it was sold by Governor Pio Pico to one of his confederates "for debt" is in the process of being re-assembled. The library, as stated elsewhere, was started by Fr. Serra himself, and catalogued by Fr. Lasuen. The first catalogued library in California. The Franciscans were mostly learned men—men of books—scientists, physicians, agriculturists, architects, sociologists, historians, and humanitarians, as well as seekers after souls. The museum books bespeak the heightened moments of the sons of St. Francis in a new land, their recreational outlets in their daily round of labor among the Indians.

When funds are available, the restoration of the old church to its original plan (retaining, of course, the transept), is assured under the administration of the deeply interested Right Reverend Philip S. Scher.

It is to be hoped that no movement will ever again be started to build a new church in Old Monterey. It is unthinkable that such a plan would enter hierarchic heads, or enlightened laymen's, with such a heritage as this sanctuary in which to worship and to reflect upon the past. The truth is that relatively few secular priests in California, particularly the older groups, cherish these old sanctuaries that come down to us from California's First Pioneers. To many, they are just a pile of adobes. A new church, shiny and bright, would be much more to their taste. Witness Santa Cruz Mission, torn down by the pastor in the '80s, to "build a decent church." Recently, a kind friend, to mitigate the crime, built what is thought to be a replica of the noble old edifice, blessed by the blood of the martyred Father Quintana.
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