November 02, 2011

Places: Mission Dolores

Today we are going to take a little trip to Mission Dolores, in San Francisco.  I visited there for the first time (that I remember--I went as a little kid with my grandmother and parents) on the 4th of July during my visit home to California.  It was a beautiful, warm day (extraordinary for SF in the summer), and I took the Ferry into the City and spent the day exploring.  

Mission Dolores is a nickname, actually, named for the "Dolores" stream that flowed by the property (Dolores means "sorrows"--it is named for Our Lady of Sorrows).  Properly, it is called Mission San Francisco de Asis, and was founded on June 29, 1776, by Blessed Junipero Serra.  While it was the sixth Mission founded by Bl. Serra and his Franciscan cohorts, it is the oldest of the original missions still standing.  The so-called Old Mission is still standing, having survived the 1906 earthquake. Next door to it is a newer basilica--the tile roof in the first photo is the Old Mission, and the adorned double towers are from the basilica--which was completed in 1918, and was elevated to a "Minor Basilica" by Pope Pius XII in 1952.
The Old Mission and the new Basilica could not be more different.  The Mission has white adobe walls and a richly carved reredos (the wooden altar piece, above), as well as many painted wooden statues from Spain.  The richest decoration is on the ceiling (below), a bold, graphic pattern painted on the wood in bright colors.  The Basilica is much larger but somehow feels smaller: it is dark, its windows (which depict all the missions and their patron saints) are small and let in very little light.  It has many mosaics.

My favorite part of the Mission is, however, the cemetery.  (You'll know it, if you've ever seen Hitchcock's movie Vertigo.)  It has a beautiful garden filled with native plants, some elegantly engraved tombstones, and a few remarkable sculptures, including this one of Junipero Serra, lost in prayer, below. Many, many famous San Franciscans are buried there. Furthermore, protected as it is by the churches, and a parish school, it is a quiet and peaceful respite from the busyness of the city outside.  Though the gardens are not as lush in the fall, I highly recommend visiting sometime this November. And, they have a magnificent celebration on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Dec. 12.

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