Times Past

Celebrate the roots of Dia de Muertos

Special to The TribuneOctober 19, 2013 

Mission San Antonio de Padua as drawn by Edward Vischer, June 26, 1873


Cambria’s grand October Scarecrow Festival has appropriately become an annual event for Central Coast residents and tourists alike.

This year as we slowly moved up Main Street to Moonstone Drive, we noticed that a number of the ingeniously created “scarecrows” bore skulls rather than faces. My wife Liz and I were struck by the parallels with Día de Muertos.

The Day of the Dead, Día de Muertos, is a celebration born in the Americas. In the years that followed the Spanish conquest of Mexico, it fused the old world Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, Nov. 1 and 2 into rich elements of Native American culture.

I know of no better place to get a perspective on this fusion than Mission San Antonio de Padua. At 1 p.m. Saturday you will have a rare opportunity to experience a traditional religious ceremony celebrating the “Day of the Dead” at California’s third oldest and most remote mission.

The ceremony will begin with John Burch, the traditional leader of the Salinan Tribe of San Luis Obispo and Monterey Counties, greeting Father Jim Nisbet, former pastor of Mission San Luis Obispo and a Native American who was active in promoting the recent cause of 17th century Mohawk Kateri Tekakwitha as the first Native American saint.

There will be a traditional Four Directions ceremony honoring Father Sky, Mother Earth and Spirit Tree. Everyone will then proceed into the restored mission church for the All Souls Day Mass.

An especially joyful part of the liturgy will be the music of the New World Baroque Orchestra conducted by John Warren. The “Kyrie a Duo” and the “Angus Dei” (Lamb of God) are from “La Misa en Sol” (“The Mass in G”), composed by Padre Juan Bautista Sancho, O.F.M. (1772-1830), who led the best known of mission orchestras at Mission San Antonio.

Father Sancho’s compositions are celebrated in a book by Cal Poly’s renowned musical scholar, Craig Russell, From Serra to Sancho. Music and Pageantry in the California Missions (Oxford University Press).

Father Sancho is buried at the foot of Mission San Antonio’s altar. Prayers will be chanted in the Salinan language by tribal elders and children.

Mission San Antonio is called “the mission in the Sierras” among California’s chain of 21 Franciscan missions because of its mountainous backdrop. Yet it’s less than an hour and a half away from most points in San Luis Obispo County. It is about 30 miles northwest of Camp Roberts along Monterey County Road G-18, which is reached at the Jolon turnoff.

If you go, be certain to carry your car registration and proof of insurance. Individual identifications will be needed for the driver and all passengers to enter Fort Hunter-Liggett, which surrounds the mission.

Halloween day tour

You also are invited to my traditional Halloween Day tour of the historic Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo on Oct.31; meet at 4 p.m. at the Bridge Street entrance. This is a “non-scary,” respectful and historic approach to understand the role of burial places in interpreting times past.

Both events are free and open to the public.

I’ll discuss Old Chinatown at the Ah Louis Store and the Mee Heng Low Noodle House for the Central Coast Chinese Association at 10 a.m. Oct. 26. Later that day, at 2:30 p.m., you can view the movie “Go Grandriders,” which has broken documentary box office records in both Taiwan and Hong Kong, at the San Luis Obispo Public Library.

The “Grandriders” visited San Luis Obispo last August and Liz and I were much impressed by the spirit of these motor scooter riders in their 60s, 70s and 80s. There is a suggested donation for viewing the film. Tickets can be ordered online at http://ccca-grandriders-rss.eventbrite.com/.

Dan Krieger's column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association

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