NOVEMBER 2007 – NO. 19
A hidden California Mission within the military
Suddenly the old padre leaped to his feet and rushed toward the oak where the bronze bell hung. With all his might he flung the clapper back and forth. The raucous peals of the bell reverberated off the surrounding Santa Lucia foothills echoing throughout the valley of the San Antonia River.
"Oh, ye Gentiles! Come, come to the holy Church! Come to receive the faith of Jesus Christ!" shouted the padre. It was early in July of 1771 when Father Junipero Serra, Presidente of the Franciscan missionaries rang that bell and shouted those words creating the third of his missions, San Antonio de Padua.
After Mission San Antonio's initial creation it slowly increases in size and wealth and by 1776 the church was roofed with mortar and tiles. Further increases by 1779 expanded the church sacristy (a room for holding holy objects) to 133 feet long. More expansion throughout the years gave the mission new wells, walls, and aqueduct with a power mill for grinding grain. A half century later found over eight thousand cattle, twelve thousand sheep and a busy wine and basket making industry thriving under the mission's control. This was however not to last and under the impact of secularization the mission's wealth rapidly diminished. In 1862 President Abraham Lincoln signed a patent which restored the extensive structure of the church which worked well until the last resident priest died in 1882.
The little forgotten mission was soon left all alone to the harsh elements of the San Antonio Valley. Man was no kinder to the site; many of the church roof tiles were stripped and used to roof a railroad station many miles away. In 1903 Joseph R. Knowland of Oakland began an effort to save the gaunt structure. Great progress was made until the savage quake of 1906 shook the mission apart, leaving only a few arches and the front section of the church intact. A new attempt at re-construction began in 1948 with a grant of $50,000 from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation from his half million dollar fund for mission restoration. Most of what is seen today is the result of this effort, minus the part that was left by the earthquake.
San Antonio is now used as a novena (nine day devotional) retreat for Franciscan brothers from all over the world. At times the mission is home to as many as thirty. The tree lined valley is still unspoiled and there is little visible habitation (except for some adobe styles military barracks some way to the east). The new brothers unlike their predecessors are blessed with radiant heating and electric lights, which are concealed within the rebuilt structure.
During the early founding years this mission like the others was considered part of the way north in New Spain. New highways built over the last two centuries have unfortunately driven this poor little mission further and further off of the beaten track. Now it seems all but lost except for some small black historical notations on a few California maps.
Nineteen miles south of King City from California's Highway 101 and 23 miles east of Coast Highway 1 Mission San Antonio De Padua is currently located inside Fort Hunter Ligget. It seems ironic to hear the squealing of tank treads and the rumbling of cannon fire in the valley where Father Serra once beckoned the gentile Indians to come and be saved. On the way to the mission an armed military guard garbed in camouflage greets you at the Army's gate. Cordially you are given a map and instructions on how to get to San Antonio de Padua. The mission is easy to find and after about a five minute drive you are approaching the front of the site. Along the way signs placed on important parts of the aqueduct and water system instruct the visitor about its workings.
Upon my arrival at about 10 a.m. on a Tuesday I found the mission doors wide open ready for visitors and was surprisingly the only visitor. Exploring the deserted mission was a real treat. One mysterious room led me into another, each containing unique artifacts of the mission's heritage. The music room was fascinating with notes printed on a large hand on the wall and many old musical instruments scattered about. There are about 12 rooms accessible to the public in all including the bi-level wine fermenting vat room, each holding separate delights. The open center courtyard is quite beautifully landscaped with sculptures and surrounded by native plants. Normally there is a slight breeze blowing through the thick adobe archways keeping the courtyard cooler than outside temperatures. From the courtyard itself a simple white cross can be seen above and behind the church atop a hillside that almost seems to be guarding the little lost Mission.
Angled beams stretch overhead in the mission's church echoing the same architectural features as the rest of the structure. Paintings of the genre decorate the walls of the church depicting saints and station's of the cross. In the front of the church is a statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, a Franciscan Monk 1195 to 1231. Saint Anthony's figure can be easily recognized as the one cradling baby Jesus in one arm and holding a book in his other. He is the patron Saint of all lost items and people often pray to him to help them find anything they have misplaced.
There are several small restaurants and stores located at Jolon and Lockwood some five to ten miles distance. A nice basket of food and an ice chest of cold drinks would serve you better, especially if eaten at the mission in the shade of Father Serra's oak trees. Early summer or early fall would be the best time to visit the mission even though the cool summer mornings are tempting. A self guided tour will take anywhere from one and one half to two hours at a leisurely pace. The mission, which still supports an active parish, is wonderfully peaceful despite the military presence several miles away. San Antonio de Padua is a beautiful example of the simplistic life that took place during California's mission period and should not be missed. Who knows, perhaps Saint Antonio will help you find your way to this lonely lost mission
For further information you can contact the mission at (831) 385-4478. Changing times have required the Army to tighten restrictions and to drive onto the post you must have a valid driver's license, vehicle registration and insurance. Also, an earthquake shook the structure several years ago, along with Mission San Miguel Archangel, the chapels are both closed to visitors and the money is very slow in trickling in to rebuild them.
Entering a mission for the first time is always awe inspiring for me. Each mission has its own ambience and presence, some more than others. San Antonio de Padua is one of the special ones. Huge beams high overhead, stretch the complete length of the church, once painted a deep bluish-purple color, are now quite faded. Beams of light stream in through the two small windows near the front of the church both lighting the statue of Saint Antonio.
You can feel the coolness of the thick adobe walls that surround you, and feel the more than a million prayers that have been said on this consecrated ground deep inside of you. It always makes me hesitate to shoot photographs, and when I do, I want to make sure the images I shoot will be as perfect as I can make them, and will last a lifetime. The musty smell of the adobe and the inner feeling of peace still lingers with me after these many years. And … I am still truly astounded with the thought that I once stood on the same spot that Father Serra stood in the 1700s. I don't think there is anyone that visits this part of California's early history who's soul won't feel somehow touched and enriched by the experience.
Images courtesy Townsend Twainhart.
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