Sunday, 11 December 2011

San Juan Capistrano, Part 2: Basilica of San Juan Capistrano and the Serra Chapel

The San Juan Capistrano Mission is considered a place of historical, cultural and religious significance. The preservation of this place honors the different traditions of the American Indians, Spain, the Spanish missionaries, the Mexicans, and the other local inhabitants who have contributed to its heritage in the last  270 plus years. 
From this scale model, the location of the present-day basilica - Mission Basilica of San Juan Capistrano, is northwest of the original location of the historical Mission of San Juan Capistrano.
Mission Basilica of San Juan Capistrano

This is a Roman Catholic church in the city of San Juan Capistrano, California, under the Diocese of Orange. Its construction begun in 1984 and was completed in 1986. The design is patterned after the Mission's Great Stone Church of adobe construction, which was built in 1797 and seriously damaged by the 1812 great earthquake that hit Southern California. The present day church is twenty percent bigger than the original mission church, as designed by architect John Bartlett and built by Joseph Byron, Jr. of Alex, Sutherland Construction. 
The church's interior was designed by Dr. Norman Neuerberg, a historian, who painted the patterns on the walls. 

Dr. Neuerberg based his designs on studies he conducted on the Great Stone Church. He also visited the hometown of Fr. Junipero Serra (the founder of the mission) in Mallorca, Spain 

During the jubilee year of 2000, Pope John Paul II conferred the tile of minor basilica on this church. This status is granted o a church that has gained religious, historic, and cultural significance. This also indicate a special relationship with the holy See, as it is designated as a place where the Pope and the Petrine ministry are solemnly honored and supported. As a basilica, it becomes a major pilgrimage center. 

The papal crest, that of the reigning pope - at this time it is that of Benedict XVI, can be found outside the basilica, above the major entrances. To the pilgrims, this means that they are about to enter "a special place that is both honored and dedicated to the Holy Father." The other features in the basilica include the tintinabellum - the basilica bell located up in the bell tower situated to the right side of the sanctuary; the ombellino - the basilica umbrella once used to protect a traveling pope from the natural elements, found inside the sanctuary near the ambo (pulpit).
The Grand Retablo

Measuring 42-foot high and 30-foot wide, this sixteen-ton backdrop to the altar is made of cedar and covered in gold leaf. It is in the style of the 17th and 18th century Spanish and Mexican colonial retablos. At the center, towards the top, is the Holy Trinity - the crucifix, the ancient patriarch above the cross representing God the Father, and the dove to signify the Holy Spirit. 

Beneath is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. At the different corners are Saint Francis - the founder of the mission's order; Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha - who was an Indian maiden; St. Joseph, and Blessed Junipero Serra. The retablo was designed and created at the Talleres de Arte Granda in Madrid, Spain, by 84 artists.

The tabernacle
A prominent side altar in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe and her chosen instrument, Juan Diego

Juan Diego was a native Mexican of little means and education. He was a weaver, a farmer, and a laborer. Born in 1474 in the town of Tlayacac in Cuauhtilan, about twenty kilometers from Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), he was a very spiritual man who made regular trips, on foot, to receive catechetical instructions and hear mass. His town was established by the Nahua tribesmen in 1168, and conquered by Axayacatl, the Aztec lord, in 1467. This was at a time when the war had ended a few years before and the religious fervor of the people was growing. 

On one of his treks to go to church, to pray for his sick uncle, he heard a sweet sound and climbed up the hill to see where it was coming from. There, he saw an unusual vision. There was a beautiful woman who appeared like an Aztec princess in what seemed like a bejeweled surrounding, who called out to him on Tepeyac Hill. She identified herself as the Virgin Mary and asked him where he was going. As he briefly explained what his task was for this day, she lovingly responded to him that his prayers were being heard. Then she  asked him to do something for her, to deliver a message to the bishop of Mexico. To this he bowed in submission and left his cares to the Virgin Mary, and he went about to see the bishop.

The bishop was skeptical to hear this message from the Virgin Mary, for a church to be built on the site where she appeared. It was to be a temple where she would show her love to all, her compassion, give help and protection, to listen to their prayers and laments, and to bring relief and answers to their prayers about their miseries and sorrows, for she was their merciful mother. The bishop asked for more information and proof as to the identity of Juan's celestial visitor.

With other things on his mind, Juan got sidetracked when he found out his uncle was dying. He missed his next rendezvous with the Lady. But, she met him on the path he had taken to let him know that his uncle was going to be cured and to go back to doing his mission for her.

After his third visit to the bishop, narrating the same course of events that led him to there, in the first place, the bishop had Juan followed, to track him down to see what he was up to. But they lost sight of him. Juan was saddened by the bishop's deaf ears to his message.  It had gotten harder to see the bishop in his subsequent visits, since the first time. 
During the fourth apparition, the Lady asked Juan to go up the hill to gather what ever he would find there. It was the month of December when freezing temperatures made it impossible for anything to grow, not even weeds. To his surprise, Juan found colorful flowers with the sweetest scent. He gathered them and carried them on his tilma (a blanket, cape) that he was wearing to keep him warm. When he showed them to the Lady, she asked him to bring the roses to the bishop as proof of who she was.

Juan went back to the bishop's palace to bring the proof that had been requested. But the servants and the other workers would not let him in. They wanted to see what he had in his tilma, but he would not let them. Thy grappled with him to take whatever he had, but when they opened his tilma, there was nothing but painted images. Finally after his long, persistent wait, and convinced that he had something important to show the bishop, they let him in.

Juan explained to the bishop that this was the proof being sent to him that he my believe the message of the Lady. As soon as he unfurled Juan's tilma, Castillian roses dropped down to the floor - a variety that did not grow in Mexico, and to the amazement of the bishop and the others in the room, the image of the Lady was imprinted on the tilma. With sorrowful hearts, they prayed for forgiveness for their unbelief and their actions.

The bishop took the tilma and placed it in the chapel and, thereafter, asked Juan Diego to show them the site the following day. Then, Juan wanted to go home. Accompanied by the bishop's people, they all met the uncle who had miraculously recovered and was happily up and about. The uncle, Juan Bernardino, told them the story of how the Lady had visited him to cure him and explained to him why his nephew could not come home, as she explained the reason for sending him to the bishop. 

The construction of the basilica began in 1531 with the design of architect Pedro de Arrieta, and completed in 1709. Juan Diego's tilma was transferred here from the chapel of the bishop's palace in 1709 and stayed there up to 1974. A bomb was planted in the church in 1921 by an anti-clerical activist. The explosion damaged the building's interior, but the tilma survived, with some minor damage. In time, the basilica started to sink as the city was built over a lake. A new basilica was constructed close to the original location. The old basilica, after repairs and renovations has been reopened to the public, and this is where the perpetual adoration is held. 

The modern-looking basilica - a circular building, was built in 1974 to 1976 by Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vasquez, who used a structural design with a major pylon to keep it from sinking. Next to Vatican City, this receives the next highest number of pilgrims who come to visit, annually. Our Lady of Guadalupe has been declared as the patroness of the Americas. 

Many wonder why Juan Diego was chosen as the deliverer of a very important, heavenly message, as invisible as he was to much of the society. As it is in most Marian apparitions, Mary our Mother, has appeared to simple-minded children. Matt 11:25, in Jesus' reply to those around him: "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."

Juan Diego never got to see the completed church. He died on May 30, 1548 at the age of 74. He considered himself  a nobody - "a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf." In the eyes of our Lady, he who was of simple faith - walking 15 miles each time he went to hear mass, was the best instrument for her message to the world. He was canonized on July 31, 2002 by Blessed Pope John Paull II, and with this prayer he asked for his intercession: "Blessed Juan, you faced the skepticism and rejection from a bishop and the crowds to bring Mary's message to Mexico. Pray for us when we are faced with obstacles to our faith, that we may show that same courage and commitment. Amen." 

The feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated on December 12. Through her intercession, may there be peace and healing in our world. 

Continuing on our tour, a visit to the Serra Chapel in the east wing, was next.
The Serra Chapel in it's original state, dating back to 1782

On weekdays, there is daily mass at 8:00 a.m. On Sundays, a Latin mass is said for the Sunday worshippers, in the same tradition before the Vatican Council II changes were put into effect. 

The preservation of the remnants from the great earthquake in 1812 of the Great Stone Church and the other adobe-constructed buildings have been completed. Fund raising efforts are being done to continue with the preservation of this historic landmark -  with the Serra Chapel waiting to be the next priority. 
The faithful kneel down in front of the communion rail to receive Holy Communion. The retablo is original.
Santa Teresa de Avila

The design details in the chapel date back to Fr. Serra's time, giving us a glimpse of the art style from back then. A faux marble finish and the border patterns are inspired by their daily lives as farmers, with the use of plant motifs, the earth colors and and the color green. 
The ambo (pulpit) that is still in use by the mass celebrant, during the delivery of the homily
The original baptismal font
A peek at the central courtyard - this was were much of the activities went on during the mission's early production years.

Presently, a few rooms in the courtyard buildings are now used as showcases  for the display of artifacts used by the American Indians who were christianized and their lifestyle; some rooms are being used as offices.
On Mrach 19, on the feast of St. Joseph, people from all walks of life, from all over the world gather at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, year after year, to witness the miraculous return of the swallows. Preceded by the scout swallows a few days before, the main flock usually arrives at dawn and starts rebuilding mud nest on the ruins of the old stone church.

After their summer stint at the mission, the swallows all take off  on October 23, first, circling around the mission to bid it goodbye. As the circle has no beginning and no end, the swallows would be back again in the spring, making a full circle of their coming and going.

Less than a decade ago, on March 19, 2003, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops conferred the status of national shrine to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. It continues to be a center for pilgrims to experience a deeper spiritual renewal and conversion, since the mission was established.

This historic landmark is considered to be the birthplace of Orange County. The mission is open for daily tours. With the addition of a parochial school and buildings for the use of it's parishioners, and the availability of the central courtyard for use for wedding receptions; corporate events; concert venue; shows featuring garden, arts and crafts, there is much going on here.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
26801 Ortega Hwy
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Tel. No. (949) 234-1300
Visitor Information:

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