California Missions

Mission Accomplished

Mission Carmel.

Our visit to Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo, better known as Mission Carmel, accomplished our goal to visit all 21 old Spanish Missions of California. And it was a fitting place to end our pilgrimage, because this mission served as the headquarters to all the California missions.

The mission was founded near the Carmel River, from which it is named. The Carmel River received its name in 1602 from the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno, whose voyage was accompanied by three Carmelite friars.

Saint Charles Borroméo supervised the Order of Carmelites in the 1500s. He was also the cardinal of Milan, Italy, from 1564 to 1584. And he was the nephew of Pope Pius IV, who had appointed him as cardinal. So you might say he was the patron saint of nepotism.

But what Saint Charles is most known and admired for is his uncompromising crusade against the Protestant Reformation. Under his leadership, he was responsible for the arrests of many Swiss Protestants, for heresy. He also had suspected witches and sorcerers burned at the stake. And in this way, the merciful, loving words of the Lord Jesus Christ were protected from being corrupted and perverted by all those evil Protestants.

You’ll find beautiful fountains and gardens at Mission Carmel. This is the largest fountain, bubbling up water from the middle of the mission quadrangle. The chapel is in the background of this photo.

Mission Carmel was established by Father Junípero Serra on June 2, 1770, in the present-day city of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Carmel-by-the-Sea is a beautiful little settlement situated next to a large body of water.

This city is loaded with citizens who are loaded with money. They live in multimillion dollar homes, most of which look no fancier than my own humble abode. But as they say, location, location, location. Clint Eastwood served as mayor of this white-shoe town, from 1986 to 1988.

Mission Carmel has the only mission chapel with an arched ceiling. The walls taper inward, forming a catenary arch, rather than having the usual flat or peaked ceiling found at other missions. The people at the front of the church are practicing a wedding rehearsal, while trying to ignore the tourists behind them, snapping photos.

Mission Carmel was California’s second mission, after Mission San Diego. The first mission had been established less than a year earlier near San Diego Bay, 375 miles to the southeast of Mission Carmel’s location near Monterey Bay.

Father Serra had a tough job keeping Carmel going during its early years, because there were no millionaires hanging around yet, to sponge off of. He depended upon supplies from ships out of Mexico, but often the ships didn’t arrive. However, the nearby Indians were willing to help out, so he sponged off them for awhile. But over time the mission was able to grow its own food, and became self-reliant.

Father Serra made this mission his headquarters, and used it for overseeing the construction of seven other missions. He died here, on August 28, 1784, at age 70. He’s buried under the altar of the mission church, where visitors can pay homage to his gravesite.

The room where Father Serra died. His bed was made of rough hewn timbers. The custom of the day was to cushion beds with sheepskin, but Father Serra eschewed this practice, preferring the asceticism of sleeping over a hard surface.

The original mission was built of adobe, but after Father Serra’s death, his successor, Father Lasuén, rebuilt it from stone extracted from the nearby Santa Lucia mountains. The only other California missions built of stone are Missions Santa Barbara and San Juan Capistrano. Father Lasuén died at this mission, in 1803. I’ll bet it was from too much heavy lifting of rocks. He lies buried beneath the church altar, right next to Father Serra.

The altar of the mission church. In the bottom-left corner is a photograph of Father Serra, taken by an oil-painting camera. Below the photo are rectangles that designate where Father Serra and Father Lasuén are buried.

After Mexican secularization of the California missions, Mission Carmel was abandoned and fell to ruin. Seems nobody wants to work at a mission if they’re not compelled. But restoration began in 1884. And today, it has been restored so extensively and so beautifully that it’s widely regarded as an outstanding historical landmark. Thanks, all you millionaire donors!

Mission Carmel’s beauty makes it a very popular mission. When my wife and I arrived, we were lucky to be early enough to find a parking spot. Having a “Handicapped” placard also helped. We limped after we got out of our car.

The only other mission that seemed this popular was Mission San Juan Capistrano, where we had to beat back crowds with bullwhips, and throw rocks at school children, who were on their annoying little field trips. But such are the extreme measures one must take in order to visit these ancient houses of worship, and draw closer to God.

On December 17, 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno and his crew became the first Europeans to set foot in California. There, on the shores of Monterey Bay, they held a mass beneath a live oak tree. This tree branch comes from that live oak, which is now a dead oak. It is considered to be California’s “Plymouth Rock,” and you can find it in the mission museum. Although I must warn, you’ll be just as unimpressed as if you visited the real Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts.

In 1961, Mission Carmel was designated a Minor Basilica. This officially made it a part of the “Pope’s Church.” And in fact, Pope John Paul visited this mission in 1987. But why wouldn’t he? After all, it was his church. Four other missions are also Minor Basilicas. These are: Mission San Diego, Mission Dolores (in San Francisco), Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission Buenaventura (in Ventura).

Minor Basilicas are tasked with celebrating the feasts of the liturgical year. This must keep the mission very busy, given all the holidays that Catholics celebrate. But perhaps the most important reason for a Catholic to visit a Minor Basilica, is that if they visit with devotion, and participate in any sacred rite, or at least recite the Lord’s Prayer and the profession of faith, they may obtain a plenary indulgence.

A plenary indulgence frees penitents from having to experience the consequences of their sins, on Earth as well as in Purgatory. You see, it’s not enough just to confess your sins and be forgiven. That will free you from Hell, but it won’t free you from other consequences, both worldly and purgative. Karma doesn’t work that way. In order to fool karma, you must obtain a plenary indulgence.

The cemetery beside the mission chapel commemorates the hundreds of Indians who died while serving at the mission. The gravesites are symbolic, as nobody is sure where each individual body is located. The abalone shells that outline each gravesite are in honor of the Indians, because the natives regarded abalone as sacred.

Unfortunately, we did not learn of this opportunity for a plenary indulgence, while visiting Mission Carmel or those other missions. So we did not recite the Lord’s Prayer, and thus are doomed to endure all that karma is gonna dish out to us. Goddamnit, anyway! We’re such idiots.

But there’s one thing our visit did free us from. It freed us from having to visit anymore California missions. Many years ago we made it our vow to visit all 21 of the missions. Finally, with our payment of the $10 per person entrance fee, we were able to enter Mission Carmel, our 21st mission. And upon our exit, I was able to pat my wife on the back and proudly proclaim: Mission accomplished!

Inside Mission Carmel’s front gate is this statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, coddling Christ after His mission was accomplished. The Franciscan Order established the old Spanish missions found in California, and many of the missions continue to be run by friars of this Order.

Categories: California Missions

34 replies »

  1. Congrats on having succeeded at your mission! Have enjoyed “seeing” the missions along with you and learning of their history. So what is the next history lesson in store for us? Or the next mission that you and your wife want to accomplish?
    Maybe you should explore Gettysburg, that is history for you, plus D.C. and all their museums are as well.
    Oh, and don’t worry about Karma due to not giving a plenary indulgence or reciting the Lord’s Prayer. I have already explained many times to God about you being an idiot. He understands.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well since you’re such an avid history student, I thought I’d start with the history of humankind, starting at about 2 million BC, and working my way up, day-by-day. Sort of an “On This Day In History,” series of posts.

      And thanks for your prayers. I hope God will understand how stupid you are for thinking I’m an idiot.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m impressed… you finally visited a mission that I know. I even know about Junípero Serra. But I have some bad news… you missed one. Now you’re going to have to go all the way back to Monterey. This mission was originally located in Monterey, somewhere near El Estero Park, but Serra got into it with the head of the Spanish military in Monterey and had to move it. (I guess he didn’t want competition protecting the local Native population.) So to have officially visited all of the missions, you will need to find the original site and make an apologetic pilgrimage (and leave a suitable contribution I presume).

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I loved this whole series. Thanks for taking this native Californian along on your “mission.” All this info will help me to continue to extol all the virtues of my home state. For me the only non-virtue of CA is that the lure of all its virtues has lured too many people to move there!

    Liked by 1 person

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