In California at one time
there was a chain of 21 prosperous missions that stretched across
the lands. At the present day there are still a number of these
old Spanish Missions that you can visit. One, we found was in San
Juan Bautista, California, which was the same name as the
Mission. The San Juan Bautista Mission is now a part of the State
Historic system. The day that we chose to visit was the first
Saturday of the month which meant that the Park was staffed by
costumed docents. Bob and I feel that they always add a great
deal to the visit. The people we met at the Park were well versed
in their information and were very gracious about sharing it with
you. It was fascinating to listen to someone dressed in
the costume of a bygone time explaining how they lived and the
hardships they had to endure. The San Juan Bautista State
Historical park included not only the San Juan Mission but also
nine other buildings. There was a charge to go into four of the
buildings but the cost was only $1.00 for all four, a real
The first building we went into was the mission itself. We found out that this is the only Mission that has been in continuous operation for over 200 years. The Mission was actually in very good shape. It was obvious that there had been a real effort to preserve this building for the generations to come. In what is considered the monastery wing they have turned the rooms into museums with furnishings that would have been there when the mission was in operation. In the center courtyard there was a flower garden as well as an orchard that would have been used to provide food for the missionaries that lived there. The flower garden was beautiful filled with lovely flowers and cactus, some of which the missionaries had brought with them from other countries. In addition there were herbs, and an orchard that included many edible fruits such as; olive and pepper trees. As we walked around in the garden area I could picture the Spanish Padres strolling the paths through the gardens saying their prayers. I remember a saying I saw once that said, "We are nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth."
We went through the Church and it again was well cared (for it is still in use) and many of the decorations in the Church itself were obviously hand-painted and well done. One of the strange things that we saw in the Church was a large structure called a reredos, which is a partition wall, that was located directly behind the main altar. This structure contained the statues of six saints: St. Anthony, St. Dominic, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Isadore, St. John the Baptist (patron saint of the mission), and St. Pascal Baylon. Nearby in one of the rooms were many church vestments that had been used in various religious ceremonies. In back of the church was a cemetery that was used to bury the "Christian Indians". According to the brochure there were over 4000 Indians buried there. They were buried in blankets without coffins.
The original Indians who lived in the area were the Mutsun Indians. As we travel I never cease to marvel at the number of Indian tribes that I have never heard of. Unfortunately the last of the full-blooded Mutsun Indians died in January of 1930.
After we left the Mission Church we wandered out into the Plaza were we encountered several men in costumes and in front of their tents. One man, Cisco Jim, was cooking a Johnnie Cake in a skillet on an open fire. We got a taste of it later on and it wasn't too bad. Cisco Jim was billed as a singing cowboy and in-between his checking his cooking sat down and did several songs on his guitar. Everyone loved them, but especially the children. He seemed to have a special knack for getting them involved in the singing. And, of course, what little boy or girl wouldn't love curling up in a tent pretending they were in the wilderness "huntin' for b'ar". The next man we saw was making brooms. As I mentioned there were several out buildings, so we continued on to the Plaza Stable which was the entrance to the several paid exhibits. As we paid our $1 the lady there explained something about the exhibits and the buildings to us. The Plaza Stable was built in about 1861 to handle the extensive stage and wagon traffic that came through San Juan in its busiest years. At one time there were seven stage lines operating through San Juan and up to eleven coaches arriving and departing daily. San Juan was a primary staging, trade and supply center for a wide area of cattle and sheep ranches. With our modern transportation today it is difficult to imagine having to travel for days in one of those uncomfortable-looking wagons just to get a distance of 100 miles. Today we jump in our cars or airplanes (or for some of us our RVs) and get there in a matter of hours. They also had an old fire engine that was used in the town. San Juan didn't even have the luxury of having a horse-drawn fire engine. If a fire alarm was sounded, the firemen slipped into harnesses located on either side of the wagon and ran to the fire. Then they had to fight the fire. I'm surprised they had any "steam" left (the fireman that is) to fight the fire once they got there. Guess they were lucky it wasn't a real big town, huh?
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