Monday, December 3, 2012

An Historic Chapel in Cambria

How can I resist such signs?  Established 1871.  Historic.  So I left Mimi in the shops and trudged up the hill in the hope of finding something wonderful.  And I did.
This beautiful little chapel is very much a part of California history.  It was built on land that once belonged to the San Miguel Mission.  After secularization, land grants were given to prominent citizens and the land was deeded to Don Julian Estrada of Rancho Santa Rosa and Don Jose Roman Estrada of San Simeon.  The two families opened up their homes and gardens to the surrounding Catholic communities who no longer had a place to worship or to hold ceremonies like baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Of course, this is the era in which the government of California changed hands many times.  After the Mexican-American war, the land between the two ranches was declared public.  A man named Jeffrey Phelan staked his claim and later sold the site to the Los Angeles-Montery Diocese for 100 gold coins.  This chapel was built on that land.  It is the first Catholic church, after the mission era, to be built in California.  The year was 1871.
Behind the chapel stand lichen-covered gravestones of Cambria's pioneers.   Elaborate.  Beautifully chiseled.  A dying art.   The dates of death occurred in the late 1800's and early 1900's, and yet there are fresh flowers around many of them.  Could it be their descendents still live in Cambria?

I am drawn to these old cemeteries.   It's not that I'm a morbid person, but I recognize the historical significance of these places.  Cemeteries are becoming increasingly rare.  We are a world of seven billion people.  There is not enough land to hold us anymore.  Poor Mother Earth is overburdened.  We are also a mobile society.  Few of us live in one place all our lives.  When we die, our ashes will be buried in gardens or thrown out to sea.  Who will remember us?  Who will know we even existed?
     I walked down the hill and went to Robin's for lunch.  The restaurant happened to be the former home of Frank and Mabel Souza, and was built in 1935.  Frank Souza was the construction foreman at Hearst Castle, and there were many Souza gravestones in the cemetery.  His father was a whaler from the Azores.

Here I am--a lone traveler making connections between people from the past to my life today.  It only happened because I decided to trudge up a hill to see an historic chapel.  It made me pause.  Rethink my decision to have my ashes scattered at sea.  Perhaps I will change my mind.  Have a little stone inscribed with words borrowed from my favorite song:

She traveled the world
And the seven seas--
Always looking for something.
Another traveler in the far future may come across it and smile.   I will stay connected to the world of lost and lonely souls.

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