Dan Krieger: Battered and bruised but now restored archangel’s comeback

‘Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle ... ”

When I was young, the prayers at the end of Sunday Mass for the conversion of the then-Soviet Union, seemed to drag on in what seemed like an eternity.

But then came St. Michael, to tell us that liberation was on the threshold. I nurtured a special attachment to the archangel at an early age.

I also developed a close association with St. Michael’s “Mission on the Highway.”

In the 1940s, long before air-conditioned cars, my family would stop at the mission along the two lane Highway 101 north of Paso Robles. You could always cool off once you walked inside the thick adobe walls.

The artistic merits of the interior at Mission San Miguel Arcángel wasn’t wasted on a 6-year-old.

I thought that the “levitating archangel” and three-dimensional “all seeing eye” were better than the “Buck Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” comic strips.

My late friend, the Rev. Reginald McDonough, who had been at the mission since 1952, halfway convinced me that my concerns for seismic safety were un-Franciscan.

But on Dec. 22, 2003, my fears became a reality.

The magnitude 6.6 San Simeon Earthquake that shook the Central Coast on the Monday before Christmas reconnected us with the reality of the force of nature.

The earthquake closed down much of the mission campus for more than a year, and the mission church remains closed until next week.

Just in time for the 800th anniversary of the founding of the Franciscan Order in 1209, Mission San Miguel will reopen in time for the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesday.

Nearly 200 Franciscan friars are expected to participate in the Tuesday night event. The mission was founded on July 25, 1797, but never formally dedicated.

Bishop Richard Garcia will join the Rev. Ray Tin, Brother Bill Short and Guardian Father the Rev. Larry Gosselin in dedicating what is, to many mission students, the most spectacular interior of all the North American missions.

During the six-year closure for repairs, restoration and retrofitting, Patty West of the South Coast Fine Arts Conservation Center in Santa Barbara cleaned and restored a number of the paintings and statues, including the 350-pound statue of San Miguel.

While some of the pieces had suffered chiefly from benign neglect, the Arcángel was the victim of misguided repairs which complicated the task.

A number of works were stored by Patty in her studio, but are being returned without being conserved and repaired where necessary.

These include statues of the Madonna and Child, St. Francis and San Antonio and paintings of St. Dominic, St. Matthew, San Buenaventura, St. John the Baptist, The Shepherdess, Our Lady of Guadalupe, The Pieta, San Gabriel, San Raphael and The Death of Christ.

Hopefully, donations for this purpose made to the California Missions Foundation for Mission San Miguel will allow for the completion of this essential task.

¡Bienvenido a casa! St. Michael the Archangel, our “defender in battle,” welcome home!

At 4 p.m. today you can hear jazz vocalist Inga Swearingen join the 18-piece Cuesta Night Band in a creative adaptation of El Cantico del Alba, the traditional song of the morning sung by American Indian choirs in the missions at the Dana Adobe in Nipomo.

Tickets are $20. Call 929-5679.

Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.