Friday, February 25, 2011

Photo Essay: Past the Mission

Houses of worship have always ranked high on my lists of places to visit when I travel to a new place. I've toured any number of cathedrals, churches, and mosques in my various domestic and international travels, but somehow - despite all the time I've spent in California - I've never managed to make it to a mission.

Until last weekend.



I guess it didn't occur to me that a mission listed on the National Register of Historic Places would still serve as a functioning house of worship, so when I pulled into a full parking lot early Sunday morning outside the Mission Santa Ines in Solvang, I was surprised. But sure enough, I'd already missed one mass and a pancake breakfast, and I was just in time for the second mass of the day.



It's quite a turnaround from the original iteration of the mission, which was built by the Spanish to try to convert the local Native Americans to Catholicism, and which operated as a functioning ranch for several years. The original footprint of the mission was huge, and actually similar to some of the mosques I've visited, with a large, open-air central courtyard...



...housed by an exterior wall, topped with Spanish tile.



But instead of going back inside to sit through service (about which I was somewhat curious), I stayed outside of the main building, discovering the mission's more interesting exterior features and nooks, including the gardens...



...an area where you could walk through the Stations of the Cross...



...the view of the vineyard next door under low-hanging mist...



...and a cemetery of graves both unmarked and marked by reproduction wooden crosses...



...blank metal signs...



...and crumbling old headstones.







My mission visit was a decidedly architectural and historical one rather than a religious one, but walking through the cemetery, I did feel spirits around me, if not my own brand of spirituality derived from nature, solitude, and exploration.



I suppose this isn't what people have in mind when I tell them about traveling solo in Santa Barbara wine country. But there's a ton of stuff to do, besides winetasting, just a couple hours north of LA. And plenty of opportunity for future exploration in my search for greater meaning - even among the ruins, and the dead.

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