Monday, December 17, 2012

Mission San Fernando Rey de Espana

Along the Mission Trail

This may be the only mission along the trail that has an entire exhibit in its museum dedicated to a movie star.  Bob Hope and his wife Delores are buried in the garden behind the church.  They were married for 69 years.  They were rich, famous and Catholic.   I guess it makes sense.  Sort of.  This mission is in la-la land, after all.  Its history is linked with the origins of Los Angeles.  When Fr. Fermin Lasuen began scoping out land suitable for another mission in 1797, he found the land already owned by Don Francisco Reyes, the mayor of the Los Angeles pueblo, to be perfect.  It is unclear whether the don was given the land by the King of Spain or was merely squatting.  At any rate, he obliged and allowed the mission to be built.  He was even the godfather of the first child born here.

This mission has been destroyed by earthquakes several times over the years; the most recent in 1994, when it sustained $1.9 million in damages.  Each time, it gets a facelift.  Consequently, it looks very new.  The yellow paint glows in the sun.  The large expanse of lawn is green and freshly mowed.  Because it is an active church within the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it takes some imagination to realize it was once inhabited by the native Americans who lived in the San Fernando Valley surrounding it.  Instead of six-lane highways, there used to be fields of wheat and corn, a massive vineyard and several heads of cattle.

It is the 17th of the 21 missions in Alta, California.  The "San Fernando" part of its name refers to King Ferdinand III (1199-1252).  Through military and diplomatic efforts he expanded Castile into Southern Spain.  In a 20 year period, he reconquered the Iberian Peninsula from the Islamic kingdoms of Al-Andalus.  He turned the mosques into cathedrals and was therefore, canonized in 1671 by Pope Clement X.
The Convento
  There is an excellent museum located in the Convento or Long House.  This two story building was completed in 1822 and is famous for its 21 Roman Arches.  It often served as a hotel because of the mission's proximity to the Los Angeles pueblo.  The rooms have been beautifully restored.  The La Sala, which was used as a reception area, is one of the largest and most elegant rooms found in all the missions.  The bishop's room is furnished with a gorgeous bed and the library is lined with hundreds of old books.

My favorite two rooms, however, were the Santos Room and the Madonna Room.  If you love folk art, be sure to check out these two areas.  The wooden santos, collected from all over Latin America,  predate the mission itself.   Although many of the Madonna statues were destroyed in the Northridge eartquake, collectors the world over, have donated more so there are now nearly 200 paintings and statues of Mary in this exhibit.  I especially loved the ceramic Eskimo Madonna, dressed in white fur.

Allow a full two or three hours to go through the various museums, see the elaborate altar and stroll through the gardens.  My travel buddy and I enjoyed our afternoon here.  It's an oasis of serenity in the middle of L.A.  No wonder Bob Hope wanted to be buried here!

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