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.
The August 2015 Perseid Meteor Shower and Milky Way – Astrophotography Over Rural San Luis Obispo County, California
For night sky enthusiasts and photographers alike, the August appearance of the prolific Perseid meteor shower is a highly anticipated event. The Perseids are associated with the comet Swift–Tuttle and are named for the constellation Perseus, the point in the heavens from which they appear to radiate. The Perseid cloud is a debris stream that spreads out along the orbit of Swift–Tuttle, consisting of particles thousands of years old, jettisoned by the comet as it travels on its 133-year orbit.
The Perseids are visible beginning in mid-July each year, peaking in activity from August 9–14, depending on the location of the debris stream. During the peak, these streaking meteors – or so-called shooting stars – can reach a rate of 60 or more per hour. This year, in August 2015, a photographic trifecta occurred, as the meteor shower peak nearly coincided with a new moon, ensuring dark skies for perfect viewing conditions. In addition, the Milky Way was highly visible in the sky during the same time. So the environment was ripe for sky watching and astrophotography.
On Wednesday evening 8/12 into the early morning hours of Thursday 8/13, I went out with two photographer friends to shoot the Perseids and Milky Way. After some careful planning with photo apps such as Photo Pills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris, we chose a location off Shell Creek Road in rural east San Luis Obispo County, CA, a popular area for photographing wildflowers in the Spring. This area is approximately 30 minutes east of Paso Robles and is known for its oak-studded rolling hills. With no city lights nearby to contaminate views of the night sky, the darkness seemed to cloak everything but the heavens. Thankfully the skies were clear and the weather perfect, something a photographer can never count on when doing night photography.
The Milky Way was predicted to arc over the area in a northeast to southwesterly direction, and it did not disappoint. The Milky Way was simply brilliant and stunning. The constellation Perseus rose in the northeast, and the sky show was spectacular. We thoroughly enjoyed seeing the many meteors whiz by. Some were dark orange like fireballs, while others were bright white or bluish. The meteors came from all directions, but were difficult to capture on camera, necessitating many exposures over several hours. The combination of the Milky Way and Perseids dancing across the heavens was a sight to behold. Mother Nature at her best.
In the first image at the top of the post, It Came From Above, I was lucky to catch three meteors, which can be seen in the middle of the photograph surrounding the Milky Way. In addition, if you look closely at the lower left portion of the big oak tree where one of the branches seems to touch the hillside, you can see part of an orangish meteor. In the second image above, Another World, I caught two meteors, which can be seen on the left side, right above the hill. For this image, a small amount of light painting was applied to the foreground area.
In the third image above, 10,000 Light Years From Home, I turned the camera around in the opposite direction and pointed it straight north toward Polaris – the North Star – in order to capture circular star trails. A bit of light painting was applied to the foreground area. This image was a single long exposure of around 15 minutes at ISO 200. Had we not been so pooped out, I would have taken an even longer exposure to get more intense star trails. Or I would have taken a set of shorter exposures and then stacked them together to get the star trails.
The images were taken with my Nikon D800 and Tokina Pro FX 16-28mm f2.8 lens mounted on a tripod, using a Nikon cable release/intervalometer. All the images were processed in Adobe Lightroom.