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.
Summer has truly been whizzing by this year, and it’s difficult to believe this is my first blog post for the month of July. Apologies. There have been many wonderful things happening here at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, California, from new resident artists joining our family, to the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts, the Local Color Exhibition, the Phantom Project Art Show, tour groups from Germany and Australia, and much more. I am thrilled to announce that after many months (and years) of waiting, my new 36MP Nikon D800 digital SLR camera has finally arrived! As most of my friends know, I have put off upgrading to a DSLR with a full-frame sensor for many years, hoping Nikon would finally up the ante in terms of megapixels.
One of my photographic passions is night photography; however, using a camera with a smaller cropped sensor tends to introduce a lot of noise with longer exposures, and makes photographing star trails difficult. I have been a Nikon shooter all my life and own much great glass (lenses) from my legacy analog (film) days. But, of course, with a cropped sensor, the focal length of a lens becomes multiplied by a factor of 1.5x normal. Thus my prime wide-angle 20mm lens ends up with a 30mm field of view, a 50mm lens becomes a 75mm, and so on. Therefore, my love of wide-angle shots has been severely impacted. It’s still hard to believe that Nikon was charging $3-5K (yes, folks, that’s thousands of dollars) for a digital SLR with ‘only’ 12 MP, but that was the reality. Of course there are other factors to consider such as pixel size and noise, but I do make a lot of prints. So pixel counts and resolution matter to me. Thus my unanticipated lengthy wait for a camera that would allow me to make large prints and still use my legacy glass to shoot landscapes and architecture.
Now that this baby is finally in my hands, there is much to learn in terms of new features and camera operations. And, of course, I needed to ‘accessorize’ like all photographers must with new professional cameras. Very fast, high-capacity memory cards, a new cable release and intervalometer, an upgrade to Adobe Lightroom 4 to read my Camera RAW files, and much more has been necessary. Well, at least waiting enables you to save money. I will be taking a road trip soon to test out the Nikon D800 in all its 36MP glory, and look forward to posting on my website more often. I have always been the proverbial night owl type of person, and love the stillness and beauty of the darkness. Wrapped in the shroud of the night puts me into a meditative trance, almost like being rocked to sleep. Except I am awake and enjoying the special gifts of the darkest hours, from gorgeous stars and full moons, to abandoned structures and architecture under various sources of light. Everything looks different at night and very atmospheric.
Meanwhile, I wanted to post a couple of images taken at night here in San Luis Obispo County. The top image was taken in Morro Bay in front of an abandoned art deco building. For whatever reason, the lights inside the glass blocks still light up at night, leaving you with an eerie feeling of being watched. For those of you who are true pixel peepers, please know that the column of glass block does indeed lean slightly to the left. It’s not that I neglected to straighten the lines in Photoshop. This classic building is near the intersection of Highways 1 and 41, and makes for great photographic fodder. I processed this image to give it the look and feel of an old Holga camera. The second image was taken in San Miguel at the historic Elkhorn Bar, and at a deliberately crooked angle to make it appear that the photographer was a bit tipsy. That is why I named it “Someone Call a Cab.” If you are ever passing through San Miguel, perhaps to visit the very historic Mission San Miguel, I highly recommend stopping by the old Elkhorn for a drink. Both images are comprised of HDR bracketed shots processed in Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop, and with Nik and onOne Software plug-ins. Not too shabby for an older Nikon DSLR with a cropped sensor. But not enough for a very large metal print. So welcome to my new Nikon D800.