Mission San Juan de Capistrano

If I were the praying kind, I’d say my prayers have been heard with last night’s Alabama election results. Maybe where they would have been uttered would have given them extra clout: at the oldest mission in California, San Juan de Capistrano.

That place has a colorful history, and is actually beautiful to visit, as half a million annual visitors can attest to, coming from everywhere to practically nowhere, a small spot along the Pacific coast. The grounds are beautifully maintained, the exhibits accessible, with quite a bit of attention given to the history of the Acjachemen, the native tribes who were converted in droves.

For the full recoding of the history, you can go here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mission_San_Juan_Capistrano.

The short version is one of religious zeal to make it happen (the name is no fluke: it honored an Italian “warrior” priest.) The mission was founded for a short year in 1776 until the missionaries were attacked and killed by the Indian tribes who knew a bad thing when they saw it… so many decimated by European disease in years to come, so many proselytized from the beginning.

But the friars returned, built a stone church, the only and oldest of its kind and tended the first vineyard in California with the Criollo grape. A 7.5 magnitude earthquake during Sunday services that killed everyone in it did not deter them, nor did the 1818 day in which French pirates came to shore and sacked the mission. Flooding came later and destroyed parts of the compound; eventually the Franciscans left and the place declined, only lately restored to some impressive historical monument.

Last weekend they celebrated the upcoming holiday with a creche in the ruins, baby Jesus looking suspiciously like a space alien.

I will perhaps return around my birthday; apparently March 19 is the day the swallows used to return en masse to nest in the eves of the ruins.


The American cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) is a migratory bird that spends its winters in Goya, Argentina but makes the 6,000-mile (10,000 km) trek north to the warmer climes of the American Southwest in springtime. And perhaps they will feed on these bees…. IF they come back.

Climate change, build-up of the surrounding marshes, as well as repairs to the mission church have had an impact. But before we get all gloomy – we have a democratic senator from Alabama. Let’s take the joys when they come!