The next day was our last day in Monterey. We made our way over to the Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo (the Carmel Mission). There are 21 missions in California, and at some point I’m going to visit all 21 of them. Before this trip, I’ve been to four: Mission San Buenaventura (Ventura), Mission Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara), Mission San Francisco Solano (Sonoma), and Mission Santa Ines (Solvang); plus one in Tucson, Arizona – now I added a fifth to the list!
The Carmel Mission was founded in 1770 – by Junípero Serra – the first site of the mission was in the town of Monterey. However, due to poor soil and some power struggles with the Presidio of Monterey, the mission was moved to its present location a year later. Junípero Serra founded nine of the 21 missions in California, with this one being the second (after San Diego). This was also his favorite – where he established his headquarters.
Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo – Founded 1770 – This Church Built 1794
The first church and dwellings were made of wood, with the adobe structures built later. The first years were hard and they relied on the Indians for supplies. But eventually, they had a steady supply of labor – although it is questionable whether their methods of getting the Indians to stick around were very humane. At the height of the mission, there were 927 Indians working and living at the mission. Junípero Serra came and went, founding other missions along the way, and baptizing and confirming Indians throughout the region (over 4,000 Indians were baptized at Carmel alone). Serra died at the age of 71 (that’s a long life as an adventurer out in the wilderness!) at the Carmel Mission and at his request, was buried beneath the main altar of the church.
The present church was constructed in 1794 on the site of the original church (Serra is still buried in front of the altar). The curved walls were covered with a lime plaster made from burnt sea shells, and the floor was made from tile. The tower is a Moorish design and has nine bells. It is the only one of the California Missions that has its original bell tower dome.
The Main Altar at the Carmel Mission
In 1834, the Indian population had dwindled, and the Mission was secularized, which means that it became a conventional parish church. The mission lands were transferred to Hispanic settlers and gradually the church fell into ruin. When the United States took control of California, they also took control of all of the missions, but the property was returned to the Catholic Church in 1859 – the church was already in ruins by this time. Restoration was begun in 1884, by putting a new roof on the Mission. Eventually restoration was completed and you have the grand structure you see today.
This is Believed to be the First Confessional at the Mission – Constructed from an 18th Century Packing Crate
In 1987, Pope Jean Paul II visited the Mission San Carlos de Borroméo de Río Carmelo, and prayed inside the Church. In 1988 Serra was beatified by Jean Paul II. Beatification is the third of four steps in the canonization process, which is the process to sainthood. During the process, his treatment of the Indians was debated – at this point Serra has not gone through the last step to sainthood, but I have no idea if that is a result of his treatment of the Indians. The church today remains an active parish church with a school for children aged kindergarten to 8th grade.
The interior of the church is beautiful, and we took a while to just take it all in. There is a display before you enter the church of the vestments that Serra wore during his lifetime; the garments are in amazing condition and the color and detail are vivid and intricate. There is also an icon of the Virgin Mary in the church that is over 300 years old. The Mission also has a museum showing the rooms that the priests lived in, the mission library and the books it contained, and information about how life was lived on a mission property. It is a self-guided tour, so you can take as much time as you would like exploring the different rooms and exhibits.
Virgin Mary Icon – This is Where Jean Paul II Prayed
A Couple of the Vestments that Serra Wore
The mission is designated as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, but the church is maintained entirely by private funds. It is well worth the visit to see a mission that is almost 250 years old!
We started our day in downtown Ventura, where the Mission San Buenaventura is located. The Ventura Mission was founded in 1782 by Fray Juniperro Serra – this was the last mission that he founded. They built an aqueduct from a river 7 miles away to irrigate the mission crops – which lasted longer than the first church building that was destroyed by fire. The padres had to flee inland in 1812 after a large earthquake damaged the mission, and they had to run again with the church valuables in 1818 when a pirate was pillaging the area. An earthquake damaged the roof in 1857 as well. Today, the mission is in the middle of downtown Ventura, but once you enter the gates to the courtyard, you are welcomed with very peaceful atmosphere. They have a self-guided tour by donation, which is basically the chapel and the garden area. There are a few of the early priests buried there behind the chapel. The mission is an active parish with services daily and a school. The chapel is beautiful, but more simple than some of the other missions we have seen.
After visiting the San Buenaventura Mission, we drove up to Santa Barbara to visit the Santa Barbara Mission. This mission is much larger, more well-preserved, and more ornate. It was the first founded by Fray Fermin de Lasuen in 1786. The current church is actually the fourth on the site, built in 1820, after they decided to build larger and larger churches. The third was destroyed in 1812. Turns out the current trend of upsizing of homes is not a new phenomenon. You can take a self-guided tour of the garden, which was originally a courtyard where the Indians lived and learned trades. It takes you through the cemetery, where they estimate that 4,000 Indians, Franciscans and early Santa Barbara notables are buried. From there you go into the chapel, which is absolutely beautiful. It is decorated with 200-year-old paintings, that are about 7 feet tall. Gorgeous! The last stop of the tour was a museum containing information about the history of the mission, and artifacts from the mission. They had a display of a mission kitchen, which made me glad for my gas stove and refrigerator. And takeout – yes, definitely takeout. In the gift shop you can buy Santa Barbara Mission Pinot Grigio and Sangiovese wine – it was tempting, but we settled for some postcards instead.
So all that looking into kitchens made us hungry (plus it was after noon, and I go from slightly hungry to “you could die if you don’t feed me now” in twelve seconds flat) so we drove to downtown Santa Barbara to find us some lunch. We couldn’t decide, so we ended up at California Pizza Kitchen. Neither of us had eaten there before, but for a chain, it was pretty good. I had their Carne Asada pizza, and Jon had a Cobb salad, and we shared them both. Yummy! We wandered around for a little while, but neither of us was in the mood for ritzy shopping, so we headed on our way.
After lunch, we drove up to Solvang, California, which is a little Danish themed tourist town. On the way, we stopped at Gainey Vineyard in the next town over, Santa Ynez, and did a tasting there. Jon really enjoyed their Chardonnay, which is more on the oaked, buttery end of the spectrum. We both enjoyed their Cabernet Franc. I didn’t like their Merlot or their Cab Sauvignon, but Jon left raving about their selections. They do their tastings in their aging cellar, which has a really neat atmosphere, but was dark and cold – and I didn’t come to California to be cold. Luckily, they had a lovely patio that you could sit on while you do your wine tasting, you just have to keep trekking back and forth to get your next sample. We sat and enjoyed the sunshine for awhile, and then were on our way.
We arrived in Solvang a few minutes before 4, so we didn’t really have much time to spend there. We chose a winery on one of the main streets, Royal Oaks, and did a tasting there. They had some good wines, and a few that were not so good. I really enjoyed their Sauvignon Blanc, they did a great job making it a crisp, not too sweet wine. Perfect for a hot summer day. Their Pinot Noir was a disappointment – it was very tart. They had a sweet Gewurztraminer that my mom would love though! The server at the tasting room was friendly and down to earth, and we enjoyed our visit.
We headed back to the hotel that evening and hit Trader Joe’s for some snacks for dinner. Sometimes dinner is just begging to be blueberries, a steak snack wrap, stuffed olives, 5-layer dip, and tapenade. With wine of course.