In all southern California, there are three iconic features which draw visitors: Beaches, mountains and missions. The oldest standing buildings in the state are found on the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano. People of a certain age know Capistrano from a song of the 1930’s, which mentions cliff swallows.
“When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That’s the day you promised to come back to me
When you whispered, “Farewell,” in Capistrano
’twas the day the swallows flew out to sea”
—excerpt from “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” by Leon René
The mission’s rector at the time, Father O’Sullivan, wisely cultivated the idea of the Mission as a refuge for the birds, who were regarded as pests by area shopkeepers.
Today, though, the Mission is awe-inspiring through the beauty of its gardens and the durability of its structures. These rival the edifices I found in St. Augustine, San Antonio and San Diego.
This is the basilica, on the north side of the Mission grounds.
The flora quickly take over as our gracious hosts.
Walking along the western quarters of the Mission, one finds rooms which housed vintners and penitents alike.
This garden graces the northwest corner of the Mission grounds.
Archways are crucial to the Mission’s style.
Both red and pink bougainvillea abound at the Mission.
This is a long view of the southern buildings of the Mission. These are where the kitchen was found, and where young women lodged.
Here is an outdoor bread oven, on the west side of the Mission. There are several industrial areas and ancient archaeological digs on this side of the grounds.
The Mission is still a working farm. This kale gives new emphasis on “Eat your veggies!”
Thursday afternoon (6/7) saw about two dozen Filipino pilgrims visit the chapel that was established here in 1776, by Father Junipero Serra. This is the last remaining church where Father Serra was known to have celebrated Mass.
Outside Serra Chapel, there is a large courtyard, where the bells may still be rung to call worshipers to Mass.
The priest St. John O’Sullivan’s remains lie here. St. John was his given name, and he has not been canonized. Nonetheless, he was largely responsible for renovating the ruins that he found here in 1910 and re-establishing San Juan Capistrano as a working parish.
Just past father O’Sullivan’s grave lies the southeast corner of the Mission, its tallest standing structure.
Here is a view of a grotto, on the exterior of the southeast corner of the Mission.
These bells are close to the southeast edge of the Mission grounds. Below is another window apse, at the southwest corner of the Mission.
It means a lot to me to part with an ancient structure by getting one more view of its botanical splendors.
Appropriately, this garden, at the southwest corner of the Mission grounds, served as the escort to the exit from this extraordinary site. I next headed to San Juan Capistrano’s version of La Villita- the district known as Los Rios.