Our First California Mission

For our February surprise date, I took Mary to Mission San Gabriel Arcangel, just down the road from us in Claremont.  San Gabriel was the fourth mission (out of 21) established in Alta California (the present state of California, as compared to Baja California in Mexico) in 1771.  I thought it would be interesting because, well, history is interesting! and because we were going to a talk a few days later on how the mission system had a devastating impact on the native populations in the region.

Facade of the Mission

The complex was impressive, with a large church, graveyard, winery, museum, and relics from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In fact, Mission San Gabriel is the oldest brick and mortar building in Southern California.  The whole mission system was part of an effort by the Spanish to take over the land, and to convert the indigenous populations to Catholicism.  Diseases brought by the Spanish, unhealthy conditions maintained within the missions, and military adventures to subdue tribes resulted in the demographic and cultural collapse of native Californians.  The lead friar in that effort was Junipero Serra, an incredibly controversial figure whose canonization in 2015 set off a lot of protests, especially here in Los Angeles.  But, he is highly celebrated in the mission itself.

Junipero Serra

The stewards of the mission, though, are certainly aware of the ramifications of its history.  They note that the Spanish buried over 6,000 Tongva people in the mission over the course of its sixty-year history.  The grounds also contain a traditional Tongva hut, which would have housed many of the converts even on the mission grounds.

The mission also contains a number of fruit trees, as well as a grapevine that was planted in the eighteenth century.

After we left the mission, we walked around the area, and found a cool art supply store with an impressive mural depicting the colonial-era mission:

Finally, we wrapped up our Spanish-colonial explorations with a pretty cliche lunch: we ate Vietnamese bahn mi sandwiches at a nearby strip mall.


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