California Missions

Mission San Antonio de Padua

A 45-minute drive north from Mission San Miguel, through oak-studded rolling hills, leads one to the remote military outpost of Fort Hunter Ligget. Civilians are allowed onto this Army base, in the Santa Lucia Mountains, by passing through an unmanned guard gate. And that’s a good thing, if you’re a civilian who wants to visit Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Mission San Antonio is located smack in the middle of the Army base. This land was once owned by William Randolph Hearst, but he sold it to the Army back in 1940. The military got everything except the mission, which was owned by the Catholic Church. They have it surrounded, but thus far the 50-acre mission hasn’t surrendered.

It’s probably the most remote mission in all of California, so when you stand outside of it and view the surrounding, untouched landscape, you get a feel for how it appeared over 200 years ago. Father Junipero Serra founded this mission in 1771, as the third in Spanish California, after Missions San Diego and Carmel.

Mission San Antonio de Padua.

This mission, as well as San Antonio, Texas, is named after Saint Anthony, who is the patron saint of the poor. He was a Franciscan friar who was so highly revered for his eloquence at preaching the gospel that he was canonized less than a year after he died in 1231. He succumbed to ergot poisoning, so I guess his choice of words was better than his choice of foods.

By 1805, Mission San Antonio reached its heyday. It had grown to accommodate 1,300 Indians, and boasted 7,362 cattle, 11,000 sheep, and 800 horses. But after that year disease took the lives of many Indians, and the population declined.

The mission chapel. Construction of this church began in 1810, after the mission had already reached the height of its success.

Still, it hung on for much longer than many other missions. That’s because after the Mexican government secularized all the California missions in 1834, and they were put up for auction, nobody bid on poor, little Mission San Antonio. This was probably due to its extremely remote location. So the few remaining Indians, and a lonely priest, were allowed to stay on until the priest died in 1882.

After that it was abandoned. Some of its roof tiles were sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad and used on a mission-style train depot. It fell into disrepair, but in 1903 the church walls were rebuilt by the California Landmark League. But then the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 struck, over 130 miles away to the north, and destroyed those restored walls.

For a small donation you can light an offering candle, in the chapel.

In 1948, the Hearst Foundation donated $50,000 toward a new restoration effort. These would be new buildings, so to afford them authenticity, the timbers were cut and shaped with tools like the ones used in the original construction. This must have been muscle-ruining work. I would have sneaked a Skilsaw onto the site when no one was looking. I doubt Saint Anthony would have minded.

It took nearly 50 years to complete the restoration. But after restoration was complete, the State of California required the mission to expend another $12-15 million for an earthquake-resistant retrofit. The deadline for completion was set at 2015. Since the mission is open to the public today, I guess either the retrofit was completed, or the deadline was extended.

A museum in the mission displays many interesting artifacts, including these antiquarian canteens. Actually, they’re wine and water bladders, possibly made from pigskin. After you drink from them, the liquid goes from one bladder to another.

When my wife and I arrived at this mission, on a warm October morning last month, we were immediately confronted by the operator of the gift shop. She was assertive, but very nice, and seemed to only want to recount a history of the mission to us. But then she turned desperate. She related how this mission barely struggles to survive financially, under the efforts of just three volunteers, including herself.

She also offered the services of the mission as a private retreat. For a fee of $150 per night, my wife and I could have rented a suite with a private bath, for up to four or five consecutive nights. I felt tempted. I was drawn in by the numinous, peaceful atmosphere of the well-kept grounds, and the beautiful, natural setting of the military base that surrounds the mission.

This diorama in the museum depicts a donkey pulling a millstone, for crushing olives. Along the donkey’s path lie whimsical verses written in English and Spanish, including: “I’m just a little donkey and pretty dumb . . . however . . . I too was called by God to help humankind. So here I demonstrate how I crush olives. The reason I’m blindfolded is so that I won’t take a notion to turn around and leave my job. ” It’s too bad he’s dumb. He wouldn’t fit in at this blog, where we only allow smartasses.

But in the end we decided against it. My wife argued that it would be very boring to sit around all day with no TV or Wi-Fi. I suppose she’s right but still, I can’t help but ponder the peaceful space this unique historical site offers for the reflection of the soul.

However we did give a modest donation to the mission, which should make Saint Anthony happy, then set out for our next mission in our mission to see all the missions. Which would be Mission Nuestra SeΓ±ora de la Soledad.

This grapevine in the mission plaza was originally planted 200 years ago.

Categories: California Missions

24 replies »

  1. Great piece Tippy! I really appreciate how you write historical pieces about the places you visit. I particularly enjoyed the comments that accompanied the pictures of the wine skins and the donkey crushing olives! πŸ˜† 🀣 πŸ˜‚ Great job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. The missions are interesting places, especially for those who love history.

      A wine bottle made from pigskin probably wouldn’t pass today’s health standards. But I’ll bet they thought nothing of it, back then.

      Liked by 2 people

    • There’s a complex of military barracks and administrative buildings about a half-mile away. But everything else is wilderness. The Army uses it for training. Unfortunately, I was told by the Mission docent that hiking is not allowed off the Mission grounds.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Wow! I didn’t even know the mission was there (despite the sugar cube models in 4th grade). I had to look on Google Maps to figure out where this is, and I’ve driven the road (once, out of curiosity) from Bradly on the 101 to near Lucia on the coast. There’s nothing out there but the base… and I recall having to turn onto the (mostly one lane) road to the coast at the base entrance? I’m wondering where the volunteers who staff the place come from?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Looks like you came pretty close to the mission. Sounds like a beautiful drive, going over those mountains to the coast.

      The volunteers must have a long commute. Or maybe some live on the base. There’s a tiny town called Jolon, not too far away, so perhaps some come from there.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember watching for “Jolan”. It was like a post office or something at an intersection in the middle of nowhere. There are some huge, industrial-size vineyards toward the 101… grape juice and Gallo. I just figured the area was probably large corporate properties toward the 101 and National Forest on the coastal side. Didn’t seem like many people actually living out there.

        I wanted to drive over the pass because it’s the farthest north route between the 101 and the coast before its blocked by the National Forest. Right in the middle of the National Forest, however, is the Zen retreat at the Tassajara Hot Springs. Apparently, the property was grandfathered in… super remote. But you can only get there from the 101 side.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad they didn’t let it go to ruins. That fhey rebuilt. Good pics and I don’t know about drinking out of those pig skins but I like the photo. I am glad we have water bottles to carry with us now. No pig skin needed.
    It would be tempting to stay at such a peaceful place but I was thinking you could hike around it. That is until you said the army forbid it. I guess they don’t want you to get accidentally shot by them.

    Liked by 1 person

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