….There are no idle hands inside Mission San Gabriel Arcángel leading up to the Jubilee Year’s closing Mass. The jubilee, which started last September, commemorates the 250th anniversary of the mission’s founding by St. Junípero Serra, the first Catholic outpost in what would eventually become the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
But the Mass will also represent another, perhaps equally important milestone: the first liturgy celebrated inside the historic church since barely surviving a devastating arson fire in July 2020.
“This was a death of a community,” said Father John Molyneux, pastor of Mission San Gabriel. “This Mass says we’ve come back and we’ve come back strong….”
In Father Molyneux’s view, the most significant — and beautiful — aspect of the renovation was the new ceiling made of redwood beams left in their natural color. Other surfaces in the mission were painted with carefully chosen colors. After the fire, bits of previous paint were exposed, so they sent samples to a lab for analysis. This gave the team insight on how to choose a historically accurate color scheme like white on the walls and sepia on the window sashes.
Old paint was not the only thing revealed during the fire cleanup. When blackened plaster was removed from the walls, crews were surprised to find several niches inside – and they weren’t empty.
Adobe bricks uncovered in a niche were used to repair the pedestal that sits in the mission’s baptistery. Also found on the walls were traces of painted wood paneling from the early 1900s. Those are now framed for public viewing accompanied by archival photos to give visitors a visual sense of the mission’s aesthetic history. Glass beads and brownware pieces unearthed in the sacristy will eventually be on display as well.
Some of the mission’s most historical pieces — the pulpit, the altar, and the reredos (the decorative piece behind the altar) are still a work in progress. While they’ve undergone some cleaning and patching, the more intensive work can only be done in a dust-free environment. It will have to wait until all other projects are completed first.
Prior to the fire and in preparation for the jubilee, the mission was undergoing a more modest renovation. That meant many paintings and religious artifacts were safe in storage when the arsonist struck. However, three statues of saints, including the mission’s namesake, were still inside. They sustained smoke and heat damage but have now been cleaned by art preservationists. Also left behind was the well-known Our Lady of Sorrows painting. Two months into the fire cleanup she was discovered, on her feast day no less, with burn holes and blistering.
The blaze came during a wave of vandalism targeting missions founded by St. Junípero Serra. Statues of the Spanish missionary were defaced amid debate about the historical mistreatment of Native people. Mission San Gabriel employees tucked away their statue where it remains until its new garden location is chosen. Descendants of the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe are also designing a garden honoring their legacy in the history of the mission.
Charges against the suspect in the arson attack, John David Corey Jr. of San Gabriel, were recently dropped because a key witness could not attend a hearing. Prosecutors have refiled the case and preliminary hearings to determine if Corey will be charged are currently underway.
The jubilee’s closing Mass of Thanksgiving takes place inside Mission San Gabriel Arcángel at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10. Because of the mission church’s small size, the Mass will be displayed via livestream inside the Chapel of the Annunciation next door, and on LACatholics.org. The mission’s normal Mass schedule is expected to resume around Christmas, once the restoration’s final touches are made….
The above comes from a Sept. 9 story in Angelus News.