San Gabriel

For a while, my Nana didn’t know (with certainty) I was Catholic. She knew my dad was Catholic, and that my brother and I attended Mass every other week, and that I went to Catholic high school. I’m guessing she’s figured it out, though, since I got married in the Catholic church. It’s not that being Catholic is bad, it’s just…not her preferred Christian faith. (The irony I see is that I still have to wear a mantilla in her church, a head covering that was popularized by Spanish Catholics.)

After adventuring in the mountains at the beginning of our trip, I brainstormed other (free or cheap) things to check out closer to where we were staying in the San Gabriel Valley. The historian in me must have been at work because the Spanish missions came to mind. After asking my Nana about which might be close, while dancing around the topic of faith in favor of history & architecture, I found out that the San Gabriel Mission was a short drive away (if you’re lucky enough to miss heavy traffic on I-10.)

Our Lady of Guadalupe
Our Lady of Guadalupe

Catholic or not, this was a beautiful place to visit. Nick and I both studied Spanish history, art and architecture in college, and to see these influences transplanted to Alta California was exciting. Interestingly, I had read about this mission in Isabel Allende’s Zorro, and it was not at all like what I pictured. I hadn’t pictured the grape vines or the orange trees that we found there.

We Catholics do enjoy our wine
We Catholics do enjoy our wine

My one souvenir from the trip, unless you count the lemons I picked and brought back in order to make lemon muffins, came from here. I bought a medal with St. Gabriel the Archangel on one side, and an image of the mission on the other.

A lot of people travel to Europe to see the giant cathedrals, and I’ve done that too, but these days I’m intrigued by the natural landscapes of our country, and the architecture that fits into it the way this mission once fit into the ruggedness of southern California. I’m aware of the hand of God in everything, even the tenacious cacti of the San Gabriel Valley.


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