California Missions – Distinctive Features Of Mission Architecture

THE broader knowledge we gain of the Franciscan Mission structures, the greater becomes our respect for their architects and builders. Their boldness, originality, and diversity at once please and instruct us. It is not my purpose, in this chapter, to analyze all the varied forms of the Mission architecture, or to discuss technically the successes or the failures consequent upon their use. Purely as a layman, addressing himself to those sufficiently interested to allow one without technical knowledge to comment upon details which give marked individuality to these generally similar structures, I shall call attention to some general features, and then expatiate upon the details. As a rule, the Missions were built in the form of a hollow square : the church representing the fachada, with the priests’ quarters and the houses for the Indians forming the wings. These quarters were generally colonnaded or cloistered, with a series of semicircular arches, and roofed with red tiles. (See Plate 25 a.) In the interior was the patio or court, which often contained a fountain and a garden. Upon this patio opened all the apartments: those of the fathers and of the majordomo, and the guest-rooms, as well as the workshops, school-rooms and storehouses.

The Indians quarters were generally the most secluded parts of the premises. The young girls were separated rigidly from the boys and youths ; the first-named being under the guardianship of staid and trustworthy Indian women. The young charges were taught to weave, spin, sew, embroider, make bread, cook, and to engage generally in domestic tasks, and were not allowed to leave the ” con-vent ” until they married.

From Plate 31b, showing the fachada of the Santa Barbara Mission, a few details may be noted. Here the engaged columns form a striking feature, there being six of them, three on either side of the main entrance. The capital here used is the Ionic volute. The entablature is somewhat Grecian, the decoration being a variant of the Greek fret. The pediment is simple, with heavy dentals under the cornice. A niche containing a statue occupies the centre.

The first story of the towers is a high, plain, solid wall with a simply moulded cornice, composed of few, but heavy and simple members, upon which rest the second and third stories each receding about half the thickness of the walls below. Each story is furnished with a cornice similar to the one below, and the two upper stories are pierced with semicircular arches for bells. The walls of the second story are four feet three inches in thickness, and the lower walls are sustained by massive buttresses at the sides. Both towers are surmounted by semicircular domes of masonry construction with cement finish, above which rests the lantern surmounted by the cross. This lantern is a marked feature of Mission construction. It is seen above the domes at San Buenaventura, San Luis Rey, San Xavier del Bac (Arizona), as well as on one or two of the old churches at San Antonio, Texas.

Another Mission feature is the addition to the pediment. This consists of a part of the main front wall raised above the pediment in pedestal form, and tapering in small steps to the centre, upon which rests a large iron cross. This was undoubtedly a simple contrivance for effectively sup-porting and raising the Emblem of Salvation, in order thereby more impressively to attract the attention of the Indian beholder.

This illustration also shows the style of connecting the priests’ quarters in the manner before described. There is a colonnade with fourteen semicircular arches, set back from the main f achada, and tiled, as are the roofs of all the buildings -

The careful observer may note another distinctive feature which is seldom absent from the Mission domes. This is the series of steps at each ” corner ” of the half-dome. Several eminent architects have told me that the purpose of these steps is unknown, but to my simple lay mind it is evident that they were placed there purposely by the clerical architects to afford easy access to the surmounting cross ; so that any accident to this sacred symbol could be speedily remedied. It must be remembered that the fathers were skilled in reading some phases of the Indian mind. They knew that an accident to the Cross might work a complete revolution in the minds of the superstitious Indians whose conversion they sought. Hence common, practical sense demanded speedy and easy access to the cross in case such emergency arose.

Entirely different, yet clearly of the same school, is the Mission San Gabriel. The stone church elsewhere pictured was not completed until 1785. In this the striking feature is the campanile, from which that of the Glenwood Hotel, Riverside, was undoubtedly modelled. This construction consists of a solid wall, pierced at irregular intervals with arches built to correspond to the size of the bells which were to be hung within them. The bells being of varying sizes, there could be no regularity in the arrangement of the arches, yet the whole bell-tower is beautiful in outline and harmonious in general effect. On the left, the wall is stepped back irregularly up to the centre bell aperture, each step capped with a simple projecting moulded cornice, as at Santa Barbara. The upper aperture is crowned with a plain masonry elliptical arch, upon which rests a wrought iron finial in the form of a cross.

The walls of San Gabriel are supported by ten buttresses with pyramidal copings. (See Plate 5 a.) Projecting ledges divide the pyramids into three unequal portions. In some of these buttresses are niches, embellished with pilasters which support a complete entablature. At the base of these niches is a projecting sill, undoubtedly a device for the purpose of giving greater space or depth in which to place statues. On the concave surfaces of these niches and the entablatures it is possible that the architects de-signed to have distemper paintings, as such decoration is often found on both exterior and interior walls, although sometimes it has been covered by vandal whitewashers. In several of the Missions, the spandrels of the arches show evidence of having been decorated with paintings, fragments of which still remain.

Plate 37 a represents San Luis Rey, by many regarded as the king of California Mission structures. In this illustration will be seen one of the strongest features of this style, and one that has had a wide influence upon our modern architecture. This feature consists of the stepped and curved sides of the pediment.

I know no commonly received architectural term to designate this, yet it is found at San Luis Rey, San Antonio de Padua, Santa Ines, and at other places. At San Luis Rey, it is the dominant feature of the extension wall to the right of the fachada of the main building.

On this San Luis pediment occurs a lantern which architects regard as misplaced. Yet the fathers’ motive for its presence is clear : that is, the uplifting of the Sign whereby the Indians could alone find salvation.

In the fachada at San Luis there are three niches for statues : one on either side of the doorway, and one in the centre of the pediment. It will be noticed that the fachada is divided into three unequal portions. The ends of the two outer walls of the main building are faced with pilasters which support the cornice of the pediment. Below the cornice and above the entablature is a circular window. The entablature is supported by engaged columns, upon which rests a heavily moulded cornice; the whole forming a pleasing architectural effect about the doorway, the semi-circular arch of which is especially fine.

It will be noticed by reference to Plate 31 b, that on the towers at Santa Barbara there is a chamfer at each corner. At San Luis Rey this detail is different, in that the chamfer is replaced by an entire flat surface. The tower thus becomes an irregular octagon, with four greater and four lesser sides. These smaller sides answer the same decorative purpose as the chamfer at Santa Barbara. The same idea is also worked out in the dome, which is not a hemisphere, but which prolongs the exaggerated chamfers of the stories below.

There is little doubt that the original design provided for a second tower to be erected at San Luis Rey, uniform with the existing one.

Santa Ines shown in Plates 2 and 38 b, presents pleasing features. Here the fachada is exceedingly simple ; the bell-tower being a plain wall pierced as at San Gabriel. The same pyramidal feature, used here as an ornament for the four corners, and the curved pediment please the eye, and satisfy the desire for strength and grace. The rear view, 38 b, shows the massiveness of the walls and the extra reinforcement of them by means of the buttresses.

While simple and chaste, the two churches of San Carlos Borromeo — one in the ancient town of Monterey, and the other seven miles away in El Carmelo Valley — have a peculiar interest and fascination, since they were the home-churches of the saintly Serra himself. At the Valley church (Plate 3 b), lovingly called Carmelo by the neighboring people, Serra lived, worked, prayed, died, and was buried. By Padre Casanova it was restored some fifteen years ago, and the body of Serra was sought, identified, and recovered. Here the egg-shaped dome, surmounted by an ornament holding up the cross, is the principal architectural attraction, although the starred window of the fachada, under the semicircular cornice, and the ornamental doorway are also striking and pleasing features.

At Monterey (Plate Q5 b) the fachada and tower are of entirely different character, although superficial observers remark upon the similarity of these features to those of the Valley church. The tiled pyramidal covering of the tower is especially pleasing, as is seen in Plate 8 a. At the four corners of the tower stand simple but effective finial ornaments, and in the centre of the front is a similar ornament, elevated upon a sloping base or pedestal.

This pyramidal tiled tower is a useful and structural device. It is perfectly adapted to its two purposes, viz., the uplifting of the bells and the cross : the former that, as the sound peals forth, it may reach further, and the latter that it may be seen at a long distance and also that it may surmount, crown, and dominate every other object of the building.

Even after this cursory survey, one cannot fail to observe the differences in fachadas, pediments, campaniles (bell-towers), columns, buttresses, door and window arches, etc., presented by Mission architecture. Some of these we shall now consider in detail.

1. Fachadas. Opinion is divided as to which is the most striking, pleasing, and architecturally correct of the Mission fachadas. Perhaps that of Santa Barbara (Plate 31 b) would receive the largest number of votes, were the question to be decided by such a test. Those whose tastes incline toward the more ornate Spanish styles, would choose between the two San Carlos buildings at Monterey. It will be easily conceded that in elaborateness of design the Monterey fachada leads all others. But elaborateness is not always the most pleasing quality, nor yet is it always united with perfection. The simple dignity of the Carmelo fachada, the doorway, the central star-window, with the severely plain gable, broken only by the impressive sweep of the semicircular arch, make a pleasing combination which is worthy of study.

That of San Luis Rey (Plate 37a) is, perhaps, the most distinctive of them all. It contains all those features which are recognized as typically ” Mission “: such as the curved and stepped pediment, the lantern crowning the same, and the two-storied, pierced bell-tower, with chamfered corners and lantern crown.

The fachada of San Francisco de Asis (Dolores), which is presented in Plate 7 a, differs widely from any of the others. It has two stories, resting upon a solid, projecting double foundation, the front of which is cemented. The lower story consists of four columns, two on either side of the doorway, the arch of which is supported by simple right-angled stone doorposts, crowned with a half-round cornice. The base consists of a double plinth and a narrow fillet or cushion, upon which the plain shaft rests. Its cap is simple, being composed of two enlarged sections of the shaft, divided by a fillet, and topped with a plain abacus.

A double membered cornice now stretches across the whole building and becomes the base for the upper portion of the fachada; thus forming a kind of rude entablature. Resting upon this cornice, yet retired somewhat behind the lower columns, are six engaged columns; the two outer ones being but three or four feet high, the second pair somewhat higher, and the inner pair from six to eight feet in height. In the central space between the two highest columns, the wall is pierced by a rectangular void; room being thus afforded for a small bell. In the two next outer spaces, similar piercings occur, the tops of which are arched, and in these hang two larger bells. Each bell has a wooden carriage to which it is fastened with rawhide thongs, the latter giving an excellent example of the toughness and durability of this material.

The use of rawhide instead of nails for the fastening together of building timbers, as well as for swinging bells, was often resorted to by the Mission builders. At San Fernando, San Antonio, San Miguel, San Jose and San Francisco, beams and rafters are thus fastened.

The remaining vestiges of the San Diego fachada (Plate 3 a), are similar in style to the central part of that of San Luis Rey (Plate 37 a), although it is less elaborate than its near northern and later-built neighbor.

San Gabriel is peculiar in construction, as it has no fachada; the side of the church, with its buttresses and stairway into the choir gallery forming the main front. Attached to this, at the left, stands the campanile (Plate 5 a), without which the entire structure would be dull and ineffective. Of a similar character, and yet quite different in detail is the fachada of Santa Ines (see Plate 2). Here the end of the church, with the addition of the campanile, serves as the fachada; since the wall at the right containing the bells is a solitary wall, as can be seen from an examination of Plate 38b. It is the campanile, in each case attached to the church wall, which gives dignity and character to the fachada at San Gabriel and Santa Ines.

San Luis Obispo (Plate 5 b), San Juan Bautista (Plate 34 a), and San Miguel (Plate 36 a), make no pretence to imposing fachadas. The chief entrance is at the end of the main church building. Somewhat more elaborate, and made imposing with its massive tower at the right, and large hipped buttress at the left, is the fachada of San Buenaventura (Plate 7 b). Here, too, the arched and corniced doorway, with the simple pilasters, and the triangular entablature pierced by a square window aperture and a bracketed niche for a statue, break the monotony felt in the three previously named structures.

Santa Cruz much resembled San Buenaventura, as a glance at Plate 31 a will show, although it will be noted that there are but two buttresses ; that there is no triangular entablature ; and that the tower recedes, instead of projecting along the right wall as at San Buenaventura.

San Rafael had a side entrance at one end of the church building with twin star-windows, one above the other.

Most interesting and unique, perhaps, in this respect, is San Antonio de Padua, imperfectly shown in Plate 38 a. Here the fachada is built some ten or twelve feet in advance of the front end of the church. Then, the intervening space is arched over to form a closed entrance. This fachada is of burnt brick, although the church is of adobe, and, while the latter is in sad ruins, the former is almost as perfect as when built. At the bottom are three arched entrances : all being semicircular, and the largest in the centre. The pediment is of the Mission order, and will be later described. Above the entrances are three piercings for bells ; the lateral ones contained in tower-like extensions, which were formerly surmounted by crosses. The monotony of the plain brick-work is destroyed by a series of dividing cornices, one of which reaches across from the bases of the entrance arches. The next higher cornice stretches unbrokenly across from the bases of the two side bell-towers, followed by a third, which extends from the bases of the arches of the side towers, forming a base for the central bell piercing. There is still a fourth cornice above this upper bell arch, and all the three bell spaces are likewise divided by simple cornices. The result is a most pleasing whole.

2. Pediments. At first one might believe that little or no diversity could occur in the Mission pediments, yet important variations may be observed. If we take that of San Luis Rey as the typical curved and stepped pediment, we shall find that it stands absolutely alone. Let us analyze it. Beginning at the lantern, we find that this detail rests upon a flat top, making a sharp downward curve to the perpendicular and resting on a narrow horizontal plat-form ; then, a concave and convex curve reaches another horizontal platform, followed by a final concave and con-vex curve to the supporting cornice.

Now compare this with five other existing pediments. That of San Gabriel has already been described. It is the pediment of the campanile (Plate 5 a). That of San Carlos at Monterey shows a long, sweeping, convex curve, with a flat termination at the bottom, and scrolls at the top connecting with a slight arch. It can scarcely be placed in the same class.

The pediment of San Diego (Plate 3 a) is in ruined condition, showing merely the double (concave and convex) curve; while that of Santa Ines (Plate 2) is a pediment to the campanile. Here we find a succession of convex curves ; three in the series dropping down from the central arch on which the cross rests, make the pediment. The pediment of San Antonio (Plate 38 a) is again different. The bricks of the crown are stepped, there being eight or nine layers. Then follows a double brick cornice, the edges of the brick being moulded to the half-round. Next is a concave curve, a perpendicular step, resting on a flat platform, followed by two more concave curves of unequal length.

Here, then, we have the proof that of six Mission pediments no two are alike.

3. Campaniles. The bell-towers show almost equal diversity. There are eleven Missions which had (or have) distinct bell-towers, not including the quaint one at the Pala Asistencia. The points of similarity between San Gabriel and Santa Ines have been already indicated, and the uniqueness of that of San Antonio has been discussed. San Luis Obispo formerly had three pierced apertures in the main wall of the church above the doorway, shown in Plate 5 b ; but when the restoration took place, this interesting feature was abolished by blocking up the apertures and building an ugly, inharmonious, detached wooden tower. The same style of aperture characterizing San Luis, it will be remembered, is that which obtains at Dolores (San Francisco).

San Juan Capistrano has a unique campanile, since it is composed of a wall joining two buildings, and pierced with four apertures, as shown in Plate 30a.

Of bell-towers proper, there are six; the best known being those of Santa Barbara and San Luis Rey. Between these two there are only slight differences, which already have been indicated. The bell-tower of San Buenaventura (Plate 7 b) is very similar except that it shows no chamfers, and that the corner finials are different. The tower of Santa Cruz has disappeared, but it belonged practically to the same class.

Entirely dissimilar, and also different from each other, are the towers of the two Missions at Monterey. The Mission in the Carmelo Valley, with the egg-shaped dome, and the Mission at Monterey with the pyramidal red-tiled roof, are well pictured in Plates 3 b and 25 b, although Plate 8 a accentuates the charm of the latter structure.

The Pala campanile (Plate 41 b) is unique, not only in California, but in the world. Built upon a pyramidal base, it is a peculiar pedimental structure standing alone. It is two stories high, each story being pierced with a bell aperture. There are two pediment curves, and three cornices which break the monotony of its face. It was undoubtedly built by the same hands that fashioned San Luis Rey.

4. Columns. Superficial observers have often condemned the use of certain columns in recent buildings, contending that they were not ” Mission columns.” But here, as in every other branch of architecture, the Mission builders enjoyed variety. A careful survey of the illustrations already published in this series will show more than one kind of column. It will be observed that I shall use the word in its broad, and not in its rigidly technical sense.

Of engaged columns in imitation of the classical style, two marked examples are found: at Santa Barbara (Plate 31 b), and at San Luis Rey (Plate 9). In this illustration it will be observed that the entablature of the reredos of the mortuary chapel has four engaged columns with Ionic capitals, like those at Santa Barbara, which have been already described.

This mortuary chapel at San Luis Rey is most beautiful even in its desolation. Octagonal in form, it was entered from the church; the doorway occupying one side of the figure, and the altar the opposite side. At each angle is an engaged column built of brick, the front part of which only is rounded. The rear part is rectangular and fits into the ordinary brick of the wall, allowing the rounded surface to project. As will be seen from the picture, these columns are capped with a three-membered cornice, also of brick; and, springing from column to column, there is a series of arches which serve to ornament the sides of the octagon.

Plate 40 shows the ruined entrance to the San Luis Rey garden, in which there occur two engaged columns which have not yet lost all their original charm and beauty.

Columns, engaged and disengaged, are seen on the fachada of the San Francisco de Asis (Dolores) Mission (Plate 7 a).

The square piers for the colonnades of nearly all the Missions are similar to those pictured in Plate 25 a and in Plate 22. These square piers are built of brick and plastered. At Santa Barbara, they have chamfered corners, and occasionally, as in the colonnade of the patio at San Antonio de Padua, they are built of adobe; but generally burnt bricks were used. At La Purisima Concepcion, the nineteen remaining pillars are square, with chamfered and fluted corners ; some of them being brick, some of stone, and some of adobe, and all plastered.

The ” gnawing tooth of time ” wears away objects that are neglected much more quickly than those which are cherished. Here destruction proceeds in increasing ratio. The exposed brick-work of the piers of the colonnade at San Antonio is rapidly ” eroding,” and if nothing be done to arrest the decay, the masonry will soon crumble and fall.

5. Pilasters. Under this head two illustrations must suffice. Plate 66 a shows the side entrance of San Luis Rey. Here it will be seen that the supporting column of the entablature above the side entrance is of chamfered and fluted brick. Much of the Missioners’ brick was thus moulded at San Luis and elsewhere : a point worthy of note. As it is difficult to make plaster adhere to adobe, in order to obtain an anchorage, the adobe walls, here and in other Mission buildings, were divided into lozenges, into which small pieces of brick were placed. These lozenges can be seen near the foot of the stairway in the picture and they are observable in many exposed portions of the walls throughout the whole line of the Missions.

At the side entrance to the church at San Buenaventura, a perfectly plain pilaster (except for the cornices) is used, and the general effect is good. (Plate 45 b.) This plain method was employed by the Mission builders in many places, for arches, door and window-frames, etc. The effect of this archway is most interesting, as showing how the Mission fathers brought with them and utilized memories of the old world. The arch is Moorish-Gothic, with renascence motifs in the entablature. The cross, as is evident, is a modern intrusion, to replace a lost, or stolen statue.

There is an ornate clustered column at San Carlos. It is the entrance to the chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Here is a distinct reminiscence of the Arch of the Two Sisters in the Alhambra. The arch is Moorish-Gothic, with distinctive renascence features in the columns and the entablature. It is, without question, the most ornate piece of architectural detail found on the long line of the Missions.

6. Arches. To treat the various Mission arches as the subject deserves would require many more pages than can be afforded. The variety, although nearly all of them are included within the limits of simplicity, is far greater than one might suppose.

Of prime interest, because it was probably the first arch built, and in any case, the principal arch of the first Mission established, is the main entrance at San Diego. (Plate 18 a.) The austere simplicity of this arch is most pleasing. It is structural and therefore satisfying ; the more it is examined, the more it grows upon the observer. The simplicity of the device by which it is made to stand out should be observed. The bricks of which it is built are brought forward a few inches in advance of the main wall. Then, at the arch, the wall itself is recessed another inch or two, and arch and recess are crowned with a five-membered cornice ; the members being plain flat brick, and each row set forward an inch or two beyond the row beneath.

Plate 18 b is interesting as showing a distributing arch of adobe at San Antonio. The arch proper is of brick, as is also the first distributing arch. Between the two are laid horizontal adobe bricks with above a second distributing arch, the latter of adobe bricks.

In Plate 15 is seen the square, plain arch in one of the doorways of the buildings at San Juan Capistrano. Here, except for the central decoration of the lintel, the whole frame is simple. In this picture, too, it is interesting to note the brick bases of the corridor seats.

At the same Mission, and now used as the entrance to the chapel, is one of the most ornate of the stone-work door-ways found in the Missions of the Southwest. Indeed, the stone-work of the arches as a whole, at San Juan, suggest that this Mission was the object of more care and work than any of the others. This fact is evident from the most cursory survey of Plates 26 a and 34 b. Here is cut stone-work done by master hands ; all the piers and arches being of work that the best craftsmen of to-day would be proud to own.

The doorway here shown is of gray sandstone ; the key-stone, projecting several inches, being carved in a conventional eight-pointed floral design, from which a wide, deep fluting extends either side down the jambs and shows vase-like carving. Above there is an entablature, the main feature of which is a two-inch half-rounded fillet terminating in cross lines on each side. A heavy cornice crowns the whole.

In a number of instances both door and window arches are made square on one side and, owing to the thickness of the walls, they are recessed and rounded on the other, as in Plate 46 a, which shows the doorway to the church at San Antonio de Padua. The same effect is produced in stone at the Santa Margarita chapel (Plate 16), in which the arches of both doors and windows are deeply recessed.

But more striking, beautiful, and structural is another doorway at the same chapel, shown in Plate 42. Here, the curve of the ellipse of the outer side is greater than that of the inside. There are several double arches at La Purisima, as are those at Santa Margarita, but they are all built of adobe. A little to the southeast of the centre of the ruins is a beautiful arch. It opens into a shut-in room at the end of which is a piece of well executed brickwork ten feet in diameter.

Another effect, often found in the door and window arches, is pictured in Plate 6 a, which shows the square entrance on the church side at San Juan Bautista, and the pointed and curved effect within the recess on the sacristy side. With this curve as a motif, there are many changes played upon it in Mission door and window arches. An arch somewhat similar to the one here presented is seen in the window above the doorway leading into the grave-yard at Santa Barbara, although the arch is much flatter.

At San Luis Rey, the curved motif, worked out differently and without the point, is shown in the arch leading from the church to the chapel of the Third Order of St. Francis, and pictured in Plate 6 b. Here three convex ‘ curves meet at a certain central convex curve, thus adding another pleasing variation to those already noted.

Plate 19 a presents the arch and entablature over the doorway leading from the altar to the sacristy at San Carlos Carmelo. Here the elliptical arch, with its corresponding elliptical cornice, is most effective and strong. The structural power of these simple arches, to my mind, contrasts most favorably with the effect of the more ornate ones in the Monterey church, one of which is shown in Plate 19 b. Here the direct influence of the Moorish-Gothic-Renascence is apparent. Indeed, no pretence is made that this is other than a copy of many similar doorways occurring in Spain. The arch, with the renascence scroll and the conventionalized design of the entablature, of which the egg-and-dart pattern is the chief feature, connect it closely with its European prototypes.

It is interesting here to note at the two Monterey churches, what is doubtless the direct influence of Padre Serra. In the archways, the columns, and the towers, there is an attempt at adornment of the more ornate character, which is not usually found in the other Missions. Four Missions, alone, of the earlier buildings, are prominent as expressions of architectural zeal and fervent affection. These are : I. San Luis Rey, in which Peyri’s dominating mind revealed itself in a building which many consider the king, indeed, of all the Mission structures. It also revealed the builder’s love and almost feminine tenderness in the exquisite quality of the octagonal chapel dedicated to the Third Order of St. Francis. II. San Juan Capistrano, in its pristine grandeur, surpassed, perhaps, all the others. Even the ruins speak eloquently of the love and devotion of its builders. The stone-work is more substantial and structural, and the ornamentation more artistic and pleasing than we find them in any other building. III. San Antonio de Padua, although built of brick and adobe, was a structure reared by affection. The fachada has been already discussed, and throughout the building, the lavish care and love of the priestly builder are evident. By reason of the short lives of these buildings, such indications of affection are intensely pathetic. What visions of centuries of power and influence must have cheered the faithful sons of Holy Church as they planned the structures des-tined so soon to crumble into ruin through the neglect of a ruthless people. But is love ever lost? Can affection ever be bestowed in vain? Only in the assurance that love is never really wasted, can we find comfort, as we stand in the presence of these eloquent ruins. IV. The fourth of these especially favored buildings is that of San Carlos Carmelo. Here Serra’s power and love are felt, since this building was the object of his adoration. While the whole California field, in the wider sense, occupied his heart and energy, it was upon Carmelo that he expended his most immediate affection. This was his home, his special abiding-place; therefore tower, star-window, arches, columns, and walls evidence his influence.

Santa Barbara and Santa Ines came later, and they rightly belong to this same class of specially favored builders.

But to return to the details. At San Antonio, there are a number of recessed window arches ; the frame being square, while the arch within is elliptical. One of these occurs in the wall of the monastery and affords a view of the wooded plain beyond, stretching away as far as the eye can reach ; while, to the right, the live-oak clad hills lead up to the deep-blue California sky. We may here picture a monk of the olden days, sitting in meditation and transported in thought to a similar landscape in far-away Spain. We can imagine him thus meditating until his whole nature became saturated with the nostalgia that kills. Little by little his reason gave way, and he died while alive, as true a martyr as if he had been burned at the stake or pierced by a thousand arrows. Such a picture may seem a mere phantom of the imagination, but, alas ! it had several proofs of truthfulness in the early days of the last century.

Plate 26 b shows the use at San Juan Capistrano of two elliptical arches of differing axes placed side by side, in the front corridor. It is not easy to explain this singularity, unless by assuming that as the wider elliptical arch is the later one, it was so constructed, either because a wider space was needed, or the builder regarded the variation as a pleasing one. Individual taste alone could decide such a question.

This peculiar feature of the difference in span of the arches occurs at several of the Missions and should be noted, for, as yet, I have seen no rational explanation of it. The rooms, too, are seldom perfect parallelograms and the pillars are often irregular. These latter imperfections are less noteworthy than the differences in the arches, though the same explanation is generally afforded for all alike, viz., that the work was done by the Indians, who had no idea of regularity. In the first place the assumption that they were incapable as to measurements is entirely gratuitous and fictitious, as the perfection of their work, mathematically considered, in shaping ollas, baskets, pottery, etc., demonstrates. And it is scarcely to be assumed, any-how, that they erected these arches without direct supervision. So that I am led to believe, that possibly these irregularities, instead of being attributable to the Indians, were owing to the lack of care of the white artisans who were imported to instruct them.

Two other arches at San Juan Capistrano demand attention. Plate 24 is remarkable in that six arches are superposed one upon another in the perspective. The one in the foreground is an elliptical arch in the corridor. Next follows the arch in the wall of the pteroma, a square bricked doorway. On the other side of the building is a semicircular arch over the doorway leading into the patio. Across on the other side of the court is another elliptical corridor-arch, behind which, dimly to be seen, are another elliptical arched doorway and a square arched gateway.

The quadrangle at San Juan was originally surrounded by corridors with picturesque semicircular and elliptical arches. At the northeast corner, where the pteroma made a right angle, an auxiliary arch was introduced with most picturesque effect. (Plate 46 b.) Such an arch is strongly structural, as a support to the corners of the two meeting lines of arches, and also to the roof covering the pteroma. The corner pier of the series thus becomes the resting-place of the bases of three arches, the other spandrel of the auxiliary arch resting upon a pier built triangularly into the wall. I do not know of a similar arch in any other of the Mission corridors.

Thirty-eight arches still remain on three sides of the patio at San Juan. There are none remaining on the western side.

Another glance at Plate 26 b will reveal the picturesque, although simple chimney at San Juan. A few hours’ labor in placing the brick tiles produced a pleasing feature out of a necessity too often abandoned to extreme ugliness. It is suggestive in its possibilities for modern buildings.

In the same illustration and in Plate 24 the simple device used for the ornamentation of the cornice of the corridor arches is clearly presented. The corners of thin flat brick tiles are placed obliquely on the top of the wall, then a heavier brick is set over these, square with the wall beneath.

Before concluding this chapter, I must refer to the heavy and massive buttresses found in nearly all the Mission buildings. Some of these are clearly seen in Plates 3 b, 7 b, 30 b, 32 b, and 38 b. Nearly all observers, on first seeing them, ask the reason of their massiveness. But when it is remembered that San Juan Capistrano, La Purisima, San Juan Bautista and others suffered severely from the shocks of earthquakes in the early part of the last century, the motive for these tremendous masses be-comes apparent. They were made extra large and heavy as a precaution against future disaster.

Many more details might be presented with both interest and profit, but the ones chosen I regard as the most important. They at least suggest that, although the Mission architects and builders were dominated by one common style, they were, by no means, servile imitators of originals, or copyists of one another.