Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mission San Gabriel Archangel

Los Angeles County, September 7, 1995

If you look at a map of the 21 Spanish missions from San Diego to San Francisco, you’ll notice that they conveniently follow highway 101 for the most part and are fairly evenly spaced at about thirty miles. That distance was about a day’s journey in the late 18th century, and puts two of them in Los Angeles County; San Fernando, and San Gabriel.

The goal of the Spanish government was to recruit local First Nation peoples, then convert, educate, and ‘civilize’, turning them into Spanish colonial citizens. Total assimilation of native populations into European culture and the Catholic religion was a doctrine established in 1531 in Spain. They sent missionaries to help construct and operate each mission, and did introduce modern foods, trees, cultivation methods to produce crops, and livestock to areas where fish and wild game were traditional, but small pox, measles and other diseases also arrived, decimating native populations in many cases. The Mexican Congress passed the Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California in 1833 called for the colonization of both Alta and Baja California from proceeds of the sale of the mission property to private interests.

Mission San Gabriel Archangel was one of the earlier ones, having begun in 1771 and eventually grew to a large structure with a high bell tower, which, after being destroyed in an earthquake, was redone as a companario incorporated into the walls, as we see it today.

Bells were used in the missions to call everyone to the church for services starting at sunrise, to communicate the time of day and to regulate daily life in the community. The bells used in the early missions were sent by ship Mexico and were considered essential in founding a new mission where they were hung from poles until a church could be built. San Gabriel’s six bells occupy the espadaña or bell wall. The oldest bells were cast in Mexico City in 1795 by the famous bell maker, Paul Ruelas, and the largest bell (dated 1830) weighs in at over a ton.

Though their website appears to currently be under the weather, the mission complex is still very active and their annual Labor Day fiesta is coming up this weekend.

In developing the album of songs devoted to landmarks in Los Angeles County (called County of Angels), it became apparent that if a timeline format was to be used, something about the mission era was essential. The approach taken was to write something simple and melodic, with a Spanish feel, and sound like it’s already been around a long time. A video sample will most likely show up on YouTube in the near future.  

BELLS OF SAN GABRIEL © Radio Flier Music

Chime the infant’s new arrival
Confirmation rise and sing
Praise the joy of a wedding
Neath the archangel’s wing

(Chorus) Ring the praises of the savior
Bring the message of the bells
Blessed by the holy father
Mission of San Gabriel

Sound the passing of a patron
Call us to our daily meals
From the campanario
Bring us home from the fields

 Plaque inscription: NO. 158 MISSION SAN GABRIEL ARCÁNGEL - The mission was founded September 8, 1771 by Padres Pedro Benito Cambon and Angel Fernández de la Somera. The present church building was begun during the latter part of the 18th century and completed in the year 1800.
Location: 537 W Mission Dr at Junipero St, San Gabriel USGS Quadrangle Sheet Name: EL MONTE
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places: NPS-71000158
Google maps: 34.097546,-118.108606

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