This year we commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the 1812 earthquake that destroyed the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano. Uniquely built of stone (rather than adobe) which was quarried a few miles east and carried by hand and oxcart, the Native American builders of this magnificent church spent 9 years creating the largest structure at that time in Alta California. So tall and white, it could be seen from sailing ships heading into harbor.
The Great Stone Church stood for only 6 years before the earthquake hit, bringing down the bell tower and crushing most of the edifice. Sadly, it happened on a Sunday morning, as the bell ringers were calling worshippers to mass on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, 1812. Forty-two people were killed, including the 2 bell ringers in the tower.
See Paul's painting, "Mission San Juan Capistrano."
The Great Stone Church was never re-built and services were moved back to the Serra Chapel and to the Sala which was converted to a chapel. Today we enjoy the beauty of the Great Stone Church in a different way, as a remarkable feat of engineering at that time (7 incredible domes, 2 of which are still standing) and marvel at the enormous stones which were once covered by limestone plaster. With imagination we can envision the beautiful altar, the baptistry at the base of the bell tower, the statuary in the walls and the native paintings throughout.
If you have never been to Mission San Juan Capistrano, this California "ruin" is a must-see. The Return of the Swallows events are on March 19th, St. Joseph's Day and March 24th, the Swallows Day Parade.
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