Man on a Mission Man on a Mission

Editor's note: Today, we continue our special series with Kirk Whitney - "Man on a Mission" will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney's pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH

Mission San Gabriel Archangel

Bougainvillea. That's about all I remember from my first visit to Mission San Gabriel Archangel more than thirty years ago. I was not interested in missions, religion or bougainvillea for that matter. Debbie and I were tagging along with our aunt and my mother-in-law. I wasn't that focused on the visit, but I was impressed with the enthusiasm the my Mother-in-law had for the massive vine and the bright purple flowers that covered one of the garden walls.

Mission San Gabriel Archangel Mission San Gabriel Archangel

We live in central California, where bougainvillea can certainly grow, but our blistering summer sun and winter frost makes placement a challenge and large decades old vines a rare sight.

On our second visit, thirty years on, I had no thought of bougainvillea. We exited Interstate 10 and made our way through the slightly gritty commercial district of Alhambra into the slightly less gritty commercial district of San Gabriel. As we made the turn off of Mission Road into the parking lot, the mission loomed ahead of us like a fortress.

One thing that makes the Mission San Gabriel Archangel unique is that it was not built in the classic mission style. The San Gabriel Archangel features high buttressed stone walls giving it a more European look.

Once inside, you realize that the mission is in fact a fortress, protecting visitors from the twentieth century. The high walls and rustic gardens provide a calm retreat from the urban environment that surrounds it. You will find some modern landscaping and hardscaping, but the overall effect is one of a 19th century courtyard.

A beautiful example is a long arbor running parallel to the mission church. The arbor is modern, but supports massive grape vines that are hundreds of years old. The courtyard in not large, but manages to serve as a minor botanical garden. Around the grounds you will find a cactus garden, a small orchard and a variety of ornamental plantings.

The arbor at Mission San Gabriel The arbor at Mission San Gabriel

The interior space has much to offer as well. The church interior is simple but elegant. It achieves an interesting blend of European and Californian influences. An alcove in the church contains a small, beautiful baptistery. The museum has an impressive collection of artifacts that include period musical instruments, books, paintings and furniture in addition to the mission artifacts you would expect to see.

Oddly, I don't recall seeing any bougainvillea. I wasn't thinking about it at the time. I was looking at the Mission with a different set of eyes this time around and went away with very different impressions. This visit, I was most taken with the baptistery ceiling, a detail I did not see or at least do not recall from my last visit.

Mission San Gabriel Baptistery Ceiling Mission San Gabriel Baptistery Ceiling

That's one beauty of the missions. Each one is unique. they all have hundreds if not thousands of elements that will resonate with no two visitors the same way. As I have experienced with the Mission San Gabriel Archangel, no single visitor will experience it the same way twice.

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Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney