Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When the Swallows Return . . .

Our tour guide, Jim, talks about Fr. Junipero Serra, who founded the Mission

Last weekend my sister and brother-in-law came to visit SoCal, to stay with his grandparents in Laguna Niguel (about 30 mi south of Long Beach). I got to see them on saturday, and the three of us went down to San Juan Capistrano to tour the Mission. If that names rings a bell, you're probabaly thinking, "Isn't there a bird or something . . ." Yep. San Juan Capistrano is famous for the huge migration of swallows there every year. In mid-March, the swallows arrive from South America, thousands of them nesting all around the city. Then, in early to mid-October, they migrate back. But, most people wouldn't even know about that if not for the Mission.

The Mission was founded back in the 1700's by Fr. Serra, who basically walked there from Mexico. Priests were hardcore back then. The Spanish wanted to establish a foothold in the territory before somebody moved in to take it from them, and instead of sending a bunch of soldiers, they sent priests. Turns out this wasn't as cracked as it sounds; the missions those priests founded are still around today. Fr. Serra walked until he got to what would become San Juan Capistrano, met the natives that were living there, the Acjachemen, and set about building the mission and converting them. Within about a generation, the Acjachemen had become the Juanenos, and the Mission at San Juan Capistrano stood in the middle of the wilderness.

In the early 1900's, the Mission was in really bad shape, and Fr. O'Sullivan swept down on it and started to rebuild. He's the source of the Swallow Myth; he decided to get the Mission some press by calling up a radio station and telling them about the migration each year, getting them to come down with a reporter and turn it into a national event. Most people probably wouldn't have heard of the Mission, and it wouldn't be standing today, if not for Fr. O'Sullivan.

Swallow nests!
There's a graveyard near the back, and everyone buried there, with the exception of Fr. O'Sullivan, is Juaneno. There are thousands of bodies there in a relatively small area; they used to stack bodies vertically in those days.

The Stone Church is little more than ruins now, and has a tragic history: just a few years after its completion, a terrible earthquake levelled it in 1812. Unfortunately, the earthquake hit during mass, and on a feast day. 40 people died under the rubble, and they could not rebuild afterwards. Each year, on the anniversary, the Juaneno people come out to the ruins of the church and hold a memorial service at dawn.

It was a beautiful tour and an awesome day. If I ever get the chance, I'm definitely going back.

No comments: