It’s like being in a scene from a 1950s Ingmar Bergman film.
A tall man costumed in black leads a procession. He holds an abalone shell emitting the pleasant aroma of burning sage and tobacco. You instinctively know that the incense is used to purify and to bless.
The procession moves across a field that was once a significant part of California’s El Camino Real in front of the third of the Franciscan missions, San Antonio de Padua, founded in 1771.
The group arrives at its destination, a walled graveyard that is the final resting place of more than 3,600 Salinan Indians.
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The procession gathers round the shaman-like figure, traditional tribal leader John Burch.
He invites everyone to deposit a small quantity of sage onto the charcoal fire in what is clearly a community offering.
Prayers are chanted for all the holy souls of the Salinan tribe, the native peoples of California and the native peoples of the entire American continent.
Everyone then proceeds 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” composed by Father Juan Bautista Sancho, (1772-1830) who led the best known of mission orchestras at Mission San Antonio.
Sancho’s compositions, which are buried at the foot of Mission San Antonio’s altar, are celebrated in a new book by Cal Poly’s renowned musical scholar, Craig Russell, in a new book from Oxford University Press, “Serra to Sancho. Music and Pageantry in the California Missions.”
Craig, like John Warren, has spent years locating and researching the manuscripts of Sancho and the other composers who you will hear performed during the Mass.
My wife, Liz, thinks of both of them like two kids in a candy shop in their enthusiasm to preserve this musical heritage. The music reflects that joy.
You are invited to be a part of living California history with the leaders of the Salinan people speaking in their own language and the very best in mission era music.
Come to Mission San Antonio on Saturday. The procession and Mass will start at 2 p.m.
Mission San Antonio is called “the mission in the Sierra” and is the most remote of all of California’s chain of 21 Franciscan missions. 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 offramp off Highway 101.
Be certain to carry your car registration and proof of insurance. Individual identification will be needed for the driver and all passengers to enter Fort Hunter-Liggett, which surrounds the mission.
I have changed my traditional Halloween tour of the historic Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo from Saturday to Friday, meeting at the Bridge Street entrance at 4:30 p.m.
Both events are free and open to the public.
Dan Krieger is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and president of the California Mission Studies Association.