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Mission At Its Zenith

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Joined: 27 Nov 2007
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Location: Monterey County, California

PostPosted: Mon Apr 14, 2008 2:24 pm    Post subject: Mission At Its Zenith Reply with quote

THE new stone church by the Carmelo, begun July 7, 1793, was dedicated in September, 1797, with all the ceremony, civil, military and religious, that their little world could summon. The ecclesiastical part of the ceremony over, the Monterenos gathered their clans in the shade of the pear orchard at the foot of the hill, toasted the day, and sang and danced to the music of their guitars and violins till the sun dropped into a burnished sea. September suns off the coast of Old Monterey were unforgettable then as now. And when the stars came out, sounds of revelry issued from the adobes of the pobladores, lasting until the sun rose over the Gabilans. At the mansion of Governor Jose Joaquin Arrillaga, at the west end of the Presidio, were assembled the senoritas and caballeros of course, properly chaperoned by vigilant duennas—of the military families. Never was "Papa" Arrillaga, the bachelor, so happy as when officiating at a social function; and as a result of his urbanity and charm he was in constant demand as best man at weddings from San Diego to Sonoma; and as godfather to the numerous progeny of the First Families.

It was a fortuitous circumstance that the celebration of the long-looked-for day fell in the administration of the gay Arrillaga, instead of the sick and somber Governor Jose Antonio Romeu, who a short time before had been laid to rest in the church. Romeu holds the distinction of being the only governor of California to be interred in the Mission church, as far as documentary evidence reveals to date, although you will read here and there that "fifteen California governors are buried here." A figment of the imagination of some creative historian, who is industriously copied.

The ascendant years of Carmelo Mission lay between 1812 and 1820, during which a busy building program was prosecuted. The report of Father Lasuen in 1815, brilliant Basque successor of Fr. Serra as Padre Presidente, announced the completion of the quadrangle on the south, west and east, the latter wing in front of the church containing the household rooms of the monastery. The west wing is represented in old drawings as having had two stories, as had the household wing, architectural evidences of which exist (and which are now forming the basis of a well-studied restoration by the Church). The new buildings included the monjetio, or convent, for the girls, and the pozoleta, where the unmarried male neophytes took their meals in communal fashion, carrying their rations of atole, pinole, mutton or beef to the common refectory. Also their recreational center. They slept in the Indian village at the north of the church, or in quarters in the quadrangle. Family life among the neophytes was carried on in the village of primitive huts, with small openings at the top by which the smoke escaped. No amount of persuasion or example by the Padres over a quarter of a century was strong enough to induce the Indians to abandon their native type of abode— "easy to build, and easy to burn when the fleas get too bad” they argued. Who could refute that?

From letters and drawings, including those of La Perouse, Vancouver, and other visitors, the married neophytes at Carmel occupied the land at the north side of the church, just outside the stone wall that marks the north boundary of the Indian cemetery. Thousands of neophytes rest here, buried in deep tiers, wrapped in their blankets.

Inside the patio much of the life of the Mission was carried on. In the center, lending a touch of Old Spain, or of Mother Mexico, a fountain splashed in the sunshine. Here the Indian girls spun and wove, singing as their hands wrought much of the cloth used in the establishment—even at the Presidio after 1811, when Mexico ceased to send funds to the soldiers for their maintenance. The blankets and the heavier cloths were woven by the male Indians, who had been taught by teachers brought from Mexico. The wool and cotton were raised by the neophytes. Shearing-time was a period of great rejoicing among the Indians, when the old-time sheep-shearers went from rancho to rancho to reap the rich harvest.

The patio gradually grew into a garden where the friars walked at the end of day, reading their breviaries, and, it is easy to believe, to dream of home and loved ones far away. But the scene that spread out before them—valley, mountain, sea and softly folding hills, on whose slopes browsed the cattle of the Mission, the dark beauty of Point Lobos beyond—must have brought them back with a smile to the land of their labors for "God and King.” Uncanny in their selections of beautiful sites for their Missions, the Franciscans crowned their selective achievements in the site of the Mission on the Carmelo.

As for the design of the stone church, it is said to bear a definite resemblance to the church that Father Serra built in the Sierra Gordas, and to another of Crespi's. Its towers, beautifully carved doorways, and famous star-shaped window bespeak the Moorish influence in slight degree, while the Presidio church tends rather more to the Mexican spirit in design and ornament. Fray Junipero, of course, saw neither sanctuary, but it is pleasant to believe that he and Father Juan saw them both in their imaginations, and had spent many happy hours planning the noble structures that were to crown their work at the Port of Monterey. It is fitting that Carmel should be their tomb. (To diverge, let it here be said that the present roof, laid in 1884, wrecked the original design of what had been an architectural gem of the Hispanic period on the Pacific. Destroying with great patience and labor the noble stone arches that indicated the height and pitch of the original roof, the well-meaning but uninformed priest substituted the pitched shingle roof that has been a source of anguish to all who have loved the Mission. However, its removal, promised over a period of twenty years, seems about to be undertaken now by competent hands. Here's to it!)

During the period in which Father Lasuen was at the helm, art, music and the sciences were introduced into the Mission in the wilderness. Paintings, some good examples of ecclesiastical art and some not so good, were brought from Mexico on the packet that plied more or less regularly between San Bias and the Port of Monterey. Carved and painted figures of the saints, often gifts of sympathetic friends of the Franciscans in "outlandish California," arrived on the ship, besides vestments of great beauty. Many of the latter were made from lengths of silk from the wedding garments of brides of great families, some said to have been sent from Spain, as well as from Mexico. Many of these exquisite examples of the weaver's art are still in possession of the Presidio Church, as well as the sculpture that dates back to the beginnings of California. The first art on the Pacific Coast, and much of it good art today. Carmel has several examples, many belonging to Mission San Antonio de Padua, for years roofless.

As for music, orchestras of Christian Indians, made up of players of the violin, bass viol, guitar, triangle and drum, played at Mass and sang the Gregorian chants in what is said to have been excellent Latin. Many had sweet voices and exhibited a great love for the sounds they were taught to make in unison. Carmel Mission, after Vancouver's visit at the end of the eighteenth century, enjoyed the distinction of an organ to augment its orchestra—a barrel instrument, the gift of the British explorer to Father Lasuen. It is a grim truth that its best tune was The Devil's Hornpipe. But the Indians liked the sounds it emitted, and the friars were complaisant. Human they were. Who shall gainsay that the touch from the outside world they had left behind was a lift in the day of loneliness and toil—unremitting toil and endless loneliness? It appears that the organ found its way to Mission San Juan Bautista, ultimately. It should come back to Carmel.

How were the Indians taught to read music? By the simple expedient of colored notes. Many examples are extant of large parchment books showing the notes in brilliant colors, beautifully executed. None, unfortunately, in Monterey today. Looted in the wreck that was soon to come, at the hands of the paisano politicians, under the guise of "secularization."

Carmel Mission possessed the first catalogued library in California. It was founded by Father Serra, two dozen books of which bear the inscription in his handwriting, "de la mision de San Carlos de Borromeo."

It was carefully built up from the volumes sent from the College of San Fernando, Mexico, to which the Franciscan founders of California belonged; and from the libraries of the exiled Jesuits in Baja California. Visitors in California, various governors and officials, and the padres themselves, enriched it. Father Lasuen catalogued it in 1800, all the notations being in his handwriting. One of two Mission libraries to have been catalogued thus early, the other being at Mission San Buenaventura. All of the Missions possessed libraries, some, of course, better than others; the spiritual refuge of the padres in their voluntary exile. The Carmel library held 380 catalogued volumes in 1800, on history, religion, medicine, art, literature and law, besides others of a desultory nature. It had grown to 580 by 1836. Such volumes as escaped the assaults of the comisionados of the secularization period and various book-loving persons later, have been in the keeping of the Royal Presidio Chapel. Many found missing when the Rev, Father James Culleton, D.D., of Monterey, undertook to reassemble the historic library, have been recovered. A device on the back of each volume reveals its original home. Among its treasures is a first edition of Teresa de las Indias, published in Lima in 1679.

Reverting to the interesting features of the Mission during Fr, Lasuen's administration, the Via Crucis—Way of the Cross—arrested the attention of voyagers. From the Presidio church to the Mission, twelve stations of the cross had been erected (not fourteen, as are now used by the Church). The stations led over the hill through the forest of pines, the trail traversed by Serra and his comrades when California began. Its chief interest centered around Good Friday, when all Old Monterey—the rancheros and their families from the Salinas plains, the San Antonio country and from the surrounding hills and mountains—followed the Passion of Our Lord over the trail, led by the padre and his altar boys. At each station, a stop was made for rest and prayer, the padre dilating upon the World's Supreme Tragedy, depicted in crude paintings hung upon pine crosses. The last stood in front of the Mission church. What an experience for the pilgrims, their spiritual exaltation augmented by the beauty of the scene.
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