Sacred Places – Peace, Redemption, Transcendence and the Eternal
Whether houses of worship or places of spiritual refuge, churches are sacred sites where one can find solace and a deep connection with the divine, in whatever form one chooses to believe. These hallowed churches are often filled with magnificent art – to me the utmost manifestation of the sacred.
By nature art is a human expression of the infinite beauty of the divine. Religious art, in particular, is extremely powerful and moving, and emotes a transcendent feeling. One of my favorite places to reflect and connect is historic Mission San Miguel Arcángel, a majestic old adobe church filled with original paintings and frescoes, whose foundations were laid down over 200 years ago.
Located just off Highway 101 (the original El Camino Real) on Mission Street in the rural town of San Miguel, this mission church is one of the original 21 historic California missions, the 16th in order. Founded in 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén, Mission San Miguel Arcángel is a National Historical Landmark and cultural treasure that’s been an important part of California Central Coast history for over 200 years.
It was named for Saint Michael the Archangel and built on a river bluff to close the gap between Mission San Antonio to the north and Mission San Luis Obispo to the south. It is a miracle that so many of the original decorations and paintings in the mission have survived until today. In fact, Mission San Miguel is the only mission in the United States with the original fresco paintings.
The church’s appearance today is much the same as when it was built. The inside of the church has never been repainted and the statues are original, although they have been repaired. The “All-Seeing Eye of God” hovers above the altar, the largest and most impressive in all the California missions. The interior hand painted walls have many pastel-like colors, and the changing window light creates colorful variations throughout the day.
In 1797, a temporary church was built but was lost to fire in 1806. At that time, more than 1,000 Salinan Indians were living and working at the mission. Preparations for a new permanent church began, with tiles and adobe blocks constructed prior to the laying of the foundation in 1816. By 1821 the church building was complete, along with the glorious interior frescoes designed by Don Esteban Munras of Monterey, painted with assistance from Salinan artists.
Following Mexico’s move to independence, Mission San Miguel was secularized in 1834 and put under the control of a civilian administrator. With the exile of the Spanish Franciscans, the Salinan people left the mission for their ancestral homelands. In 1846, Petronillo Rios and William Reed took possession of the Mission and the Reed family occupied the recently abandoned buildings.
Tragically, in 1848, the Reed family members and their household staff were murdered by overnight guests, certain that gold was buried on the property. Stories of ghostly hauntings continue to this day. The mission rooms were then converted to commercial stores.
President Buchanan returned the mission buildings and surrounding property to the Catholic Church in 1859. In 1878, a diocesan priest was assigned and the Parish of San Miguel was established. In 1928, Mission San Miguel was again occupied and administered by Franciscan Friars of the Province of Saint Barbara and continues so to this day. These friars cultivate grapes and produce wine with the assistance of nearby Locatelli Vineyards, which is sold under a special label to raise funds for the Mission.
The church was severely damaged in the mighty December 2003 San Simeon earthquake and forced to close its doors. It reopened in September 2009 after very extensive and costly repairs. Restoration fundraising continues to this day. Visiting Mission San Miguel is like taking a trip back in time. If you are visiting the Paso Robles wine region, I highly recommend you take the short drive north on Highway 101 and discover all this splendid mission has to offer.
I have so many photographs of this glorious mission it is impossible to post all of them here. But I will create another post in the future and include them. As you can see above, I also enjoy photographing the grounds at night. In the future, I hope to shoot the historic bell tower at night, but create circular star trails instead of star points. Since it is pointed nearly straight north towards Polaris, the bell tower is in the perfect location to capture circular trails. Of course it takes a clear dark night without much traffic, which has been difficult to achieve.
Like millions of people around the world, I am a huge fan of the AMC series The Walking Dead. Since the mid-season premiere of Season 6 just kicked off Sunday, I thought I would have some fun and do something different by creating a homage to my favorite television series.
As many of my friends know, I am also a lover of shooting abandoned and derelict places wherever I may find them. That includes anything from decaying asylums to shuttered factories and ghost towns. And since I have a collection of images of abandoned places, it was fun to turn them into an apocalyptic world to celebrate the return of my favorite show.
As viewers of The Walking Dead well know, the characters find themselves in a zombie apocalypse and mostly abandoned decaying world, where humans are more dangerous than walkers. In the brave new world of the dead, abandoned buildings are everywhere.
This is another reason I love the series, as the spooky locations, cinematography and overall green, blurry sickly look are way cool. As if you are viewing these abandoned places through the eyes of the walkers. Perfect for Halloween too, my favorite holiday.
So I hope you will indulge my love for all things abandoned in this quick post. And if you are also a fan, you may find some Easter eggs within a few of the images, which I hope convey the ghastly look and feel only The Walking Dead does so very well. The image titles are named after Walking Dead episodes.