Well, there is something downright romantic about darling little birds flying in to California from Argentina on the same March day year after year to build their nests in the eaves of a jewel-like California mission. In the 1940’s, the hit song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” delighted radio listeners around the world.
Truth is, the swallows have barely been seen at the San Juan Capistrano mission for years. Maybe it was all exaggeration. Or maybe the tiny birds got ticked off when work to preserve the mission started up ten years ago. Or…maybe their absence is just the tragic dearth of birdlife all over my fair state—the unhappy result of excessive building of houses and strip malls as far as one can see. Today, swallows are more likely to be seen building their mud nests on freeway overpasses even though mission-keepers try everything to lure them back to the grounds with ceramic nests and recorded bird songs.
But there is definitely something romantic going on in San Juan Capistrano as you’ll soon see, after I enlighten (bore?) you with a few facts about the mission itself.
The founder of California’s mission system, Junipero Serra instructed Father Fermin Lasuen to found a mission between San Diego and San Gabriel, and Fermin did so in 1775. He named it for St. John of Capistrano, Italy. The local Indians, the Juaneno, were friendly and helped construct the buildings, church, and belltower. In its heyday, 1811, the mission grew 500,000 pounds of wheat, 303,000 pounds of corn, and had 14,000 cattle, as many sheep, and some 800 horses.
However, an earthquake in December 1812 destroyed the church and killed 40 natives; Pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard provided further destruction in 1818 when he raided the California coast.
(To be honest, I didn’t even know a blackguard buccaneer had raided my beloved home coast! Grrrrrrrrrrrr. Sounds like future blog material?)
In 1834, after Mexico won independence from Spain, the Mexican government ended the mission system and sold the land. Don Juan Forster became the owner of the mission in 1845, and the Forster family lived there for years.
When President Abraham Lincoln returned mission lands to the Catholic church in 1863, Mission San Juan Capistrano was in ruins, and Frank A. Forster, Don Juan’s grandson, lived in a small home on the site. In 1910, he decided to build an elegant mansion for his family. And a good thing he did, for the Forster Mansion was the gorgeous site of our daughter’s wedding just eleven days ago.
The Forster Mansion was the first stucco-covered home in an area of adobe homes, and a historic wall of the mission still defines the property.The wall is the focal point against which a flower-bedecked arch is positioned during wedding ceremonies.
At a cost of about $10,000, Frank constructed a mansion of 6,000 square feet that soon became the hub of high society. Sadly, by 1983, the mansion was considered nothing more than a “tear down” until foresighted buyers restored it to its original elegance, making it one of the premiere event sites in this south Orange County area. And the mansion even has a ghost! Owners swear to cigar smoke, inter-changed portrait on walls…and the stub of one of “George’s” cigars is enshrined under a glass dome in the parlor. Georg has been seen in moustache and khaki clothing and the bedroom upstairs credited to him has a “crack” in the wood door so he can keep an eye on things.
Today the mansion is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Properties.
I couldn’t have been happier with Christi’s choice of wedding venue, lover of history that I am. The fountain directly across from the historic wall is the starting point for processionals, including a ringbearer who did the job great even though he refused to wear his tux jacket. His shiny shoes, however, did make the cut.
To the artful music of a string quartet playing the same Bach air I marched up to 35 Augusts ago, my hubby escorted his daugher in a misty, poignant moment. With her cousins, her sisters-in-law, her brother, and her sorority sisters waiting for her at the altar, it was a family moment ever etched in my heart.
The bride wore her godmother’s garter and the sixpence from my wedding shoe.
Later, the yellow Livestrong theme garnished with lemons graced the event.
And with beloved friends and family surrounding us, a special pastor blessing us all, I know the newlyweds will have a HEA even better than anything I could pen.
Truly, a day to remember. History. Romance. Love. Family. Friendship.
Now, how about you? Have you ever visited a California mission? How about a historic church or cathedral, a shrine or otherwise sacred ground? To me, battlefields and cemeteries count! Let’s hear from ya today!
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