The Mercury News
RELICS OF EL CAMINO REAL
On July 11, a blaze at the San Gabriel Mission destroyed much of the nearly 250-year-old church. Today we look at the historic 21 missions and the road that connects them known as the “Kings Highway.”
The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is one of the oldest in the trail of missions in California. It was the fourth to be founded, in 1771. One of the most famous paintings in California history is kept there – the Our Lady of Sorrows painting, believed to be well over 300 years old. Luckily the painting was not harmed in the fire. Legend has it that the missionaries showed the painting to the indigenous Tongva tribe and they were amazed by its beauty.
There was no immediate explanation on the cause of the fire from investigators in a regional task force and from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Construction was underway at the church, but there were also several incidents of vandalism and arson at Catholic churches across the country on the same weekend.
The mission is no stranger to damage. Originally, the church had an arched roof, but an earthquake in 1804 damaged the building so much that the arches had to be torn down and a new roof substituted. In 1812, another earthquake demolished the bell tower and it was replaced by a campanile.
During this pandemic and economic downturn, restoring the mission by its 250th anniversary date on Sept. 8, 2021, might be a difficult task. The church is closed but taking online contributions for its restoration. Archbishop Jose Gomez told the mission’s parish last week, “We are going to celebrate the 250th anniversary next year — for sure, and this is the beginning of the next 250 years.”