Times Past

Experience authentic history at Mission San Antonio de Padua

Mission San Antonio de Padua is the most remote of the California missions. Here it is pictured as drawn by Edward Vischer, June 26, 1873.
Mission San Antonio de Padua is the most remote of the California missions. Here it is pictured as drawn by Edward Vischer, June 26, 1873.

There were only melted adobe bricks surrounding the fired brick arches when I first saw Mission San Antonio de Padua.

A young Franciscan monk told us that this was where the music of the Native Americans blend with the music of Spain. It was difficult to imagine such activities in this rural location during the late 1940s.

San Antonio has been carefully reconstructed. It’s called “the mission in the Sierras” 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.

On Saturday, April 2, from 11 a.m.to 3 p.m., you can treat yourself and your family to a rare slice of California history. It’s the most authentic California mission history event that I have ever been privileged to attend.

It’s Mission Day at Mission San Antonio de Padua near Jolon. Demonstrations will include adobe brick-, tortilla-, rope- and bead-making, acorn grinding, weaving, face painting, bell ringing and more. John Warren’s The New World Baroque Orchestra will perform a Mission-era concert in the restored church with its original brick campanile (bell tower) at 2 p.m.

Mission San Antonio is about 30 miles northwest of Camp Roberts along Monterey County Road G-18, which is reached at the Jolon turnoff.

The mission is the third in the mission chain and is on what was once the main road between San Luis Obispo and Monterey.

The openness has been preserved because the mission is still within the boundaries of the Army’s Fort Hunter Liggett, a 165,000-acre preserve used since the beginning of World War II for special training and weapons testing. It’s now a support site for the troops in Afghanistan.

Its remoteness makes San Antonio one of the least-visited missions. That’s what always makes it so special. Despite extensive reconstruction, it still has a romantic, abandoned appearance.

The gentle breeze on a warm spring afternoon helps conjure the faint images of some of the 1,300 Native American workers and the 17,000 head of livestock they tended during the mission’s heyday. You can still see purple stains in the mission’s brick wine vat.

Mission San Antonio is also the final resting place of Father Juan Bautista Sancho, who served the mission between 1803 and his death in 1830. You can see his grave at the foot of the altar. Alongside Father Sancho’s grave is that of Father Vicente Francisco de Sarría who died a martyr’s death at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, 25 miles to the north.

Padre Sancho collected a considerable amount of church music while attending the Franciscan seminary in Palma de Mallorca. Once in California, he also composed sacred music and formed an orchestra and choir at Mission San Antonio. Today, thanks to the studies of William Summers of Dartmouth College and Cal Poly’s famed Craig Russell, Father Sancho’s role as Hispanic California’s premier musician is being widely recognized.

The New World Baroque Orchestra’s performance includes the music of Padre Sancho along with secular music including “La Marcha Real,” the Spanish royal anthem, which would have been performed wherever there was a band or orchestral group.

The grand entrance procession opens with a rendition of the traditional “El Cantico del Alba.” Native Americans from the Salinan tribe who built the mission, follow with the flags of Imperial Spain and the Bourbon kings. Such a procession greeted the expedition of Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza and 200 colonists as they arrived at the mission in 1776, on their way to found San Francisco.

The parking/admission fee is $10 per car. Mission-era food will be offered for $10 a plate with water and soft drinks also available. Mission Days is a family event, so no alcoholic beverages please.

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