Monday, August 12, 2013

Back on the Mission Trail

Joe and I are back in California this week, and enjoying ourselves in spite of the sad reason for our trip: my Aunt Vera's memorial, which was held on Saturday at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach, a truly lovely place in which to remember a truly lovely woman. She enjoyed this blog, and I'd often find myself choosing topics and pictures because I thought she would like them. I still find myself thinking, "Oh, I'll have to tell Vera about that."
     Now we're in Carlsbad, where Gregg and family have rented a place for a couple of weeks and where we now have a few days to reconnect with the grandkids (and their parents); their rental is just 2 blocks from the beach, where we enjoyed this gray sunset last night.

That blob of hot coral on the horizon looked rounder, more the sun that it is, in real life. Dante called it a ghost ship - I like that.
     But before that we stopped on our way to Carlsbad to visit the Mission San Luis Rey outside Oceanside, a place neither Joe nor I had ever been to before.

The mission is named for Saint Louis IX, the medieval French king who became a saint because of his piety and devotion, a devotion that included going on crusade twice (he didn't make it back the second time). I think he looks quite regal in this large figure above the entrance to the historic church (I specify "historic" because there's also a new church on the grounds, not shown in these pictures but just to the east, housing the current active parish, along with a nice social hall and a Montessori school).
When you enter the historic church, the original baptistry is on the left; this is the original stone baptismal font. This picture also offers a good first look at the remarkable restoration that's been done here.
This is the view from the front entrance down the nave to the main altar. I love the decorated timbers across the flat ceiling; the entire church has been beautifully restored and maintained, right down to the shine on the bricks of the floor and the wood of the pews.

Off the nave to the right is the Lady Chapel, with prie-dieux and racks for candles on both sides as well as in front of the altar. You must buy a specific type of candle sold at the gift shop there, not only to raise money for  church maintenance but because other kinds might cause a build-up of soot. It's the same back home in Tucson, where prior to restoration some of the walls at Mission San Xavier del Bac were virtually black from centuries of devotion.

Here's a closer view of the main altar, with good Saint Louis at the top and center, looking handsome and heroic in a golden breastplate.
As an earlier picture shows, the ceiling over the nave is flat, but there is a high dome over the crossing before the altar; this photograph does not do it justice. 

Outside and to the right of the historic mission church is the cemetery, which contains historic graves but is also in use today. This beautiful, life-sized bronze statue reaches out toward a fountain. I'm not sure who she's meant to represent since there was no identifying plate, but her welcoming gesture and her calm, peaceful face seem to invite the visitor to rest for a bit on the nearby bench, to enjoy the shade of the trees and the sound of falling water.

Here's Joe passing through the archway that separates the older part of the cemetery from what seems to be a more recent addition. In looking at one of the pamphlets from the visitor center we discovered that one of the former priests from Mission San Xavier outside Tucson is now head of the cemetery at Mission San Luis Rey. When we found out he'd left - this was probably 15 years ago - my mother, a retired nurse, observed that she didn't think he'd been looking well. She'll be happy to see that he looks quite well and happy in the photo in the pamphlet. Joe and I were delighted because we liked Father Michael and his sort of Zen-Catholic homilies, very much.

This is one of the most interesting places on the grounds, downhill from the rest of the buildings; the sign above explains it much better than I could. The steps leading up from the lavanderia to the arch are a reconstruction, but as with so much of the mission complex, the feeling of being in a place where real people lived their very real, not always easy, day-to-day lives remains. That's especially true here, where we were quite literally the only visitors!

The people who climbed those steps, tended those long-ago orchards, prayed in the mission church when it was new, were not really any different from us today. Especially in this area, away from the parking lot and gift shop and tourists, it was almost possible to feel them still there.

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