29 December 2011

California Mission Decor

detail of the painted reredos at Mission Nuestra Senora de la Soledad
Driving up Highway 101 along the coast of California, you will see a lot of signs for "El Camino Real"  and often a curved post with a bell attached. These bells indicate the old Mission Trail, which connects  a series of 21 Franciscan missions built in Alta California in the 18th century.
We decided to stop at a couple of these missions on our way back to San Francisco. And I had my camera with me.
Interior of the Soledad chapel
Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
Originally built in  1791, the chapel and one wing of the original quadrangle were completely restored in 1955, and the chapel still has the original title floor.
a simple painted dado and border in the Soledad mission chapel
Painted ornament of the most basic configurations decorate the chapel  at Mission Soledad.  The effect is whimsical, rich, serene. 
Soledad chapel ceiling
geometric border in the Soledad chapel
the lovely corredor porch of Soledad Mission
Growing up in California I took for granted the "Mission Revival" style of architecture which dominated late 19th and early 20th century development.  But when you walk around a real mission,  features like beamed ceilings, corredors, giant iron candle holders, and deep-set windows make a lot more sense. 
The nave of San Juan Bautista, the largest of the California Missions.
San Juan Bautista
Built in 1797 directly above the San Andreas fault, the largest of the California missions has survived a number of earthquakes. Much of the original structure remains,  and the church has been fairly recently restored.
arcade border in the nave, the piers are painted with folksy faux marble panels
The interior was painted originally by Thomas Doak, and American sailor and carpenter who had jumped ship in Monterey, and who decorated the reredos in 1817, in exchange for room and board.
The altar and reredos at San Juan Bautista houses six beautiful santos
A small chapel with wonderful stenciled garlands
The back of the church with its simple trompe l'oeil columns. "This is the House of God, and the Gate to Heaven"
The outer walls collapsed in 1976 and were  rebuilt within a few years. Since the mid-1990's restoration work has been carried out Dr. Ruben Mendoza and the students of CSU-Monterey Bay.  And done rather nicely I have to say!
the bapistry
This simple guilloche border is used throughout the church in different colors.
The simple ornamentation as well as the color schemes I find very inspiring and really quite useful.
A room in the convento painted in deep blue and red borders
I have no idea what the banner over this door is supposed to mean.
Do you live near an old mission? I am reminded now to revisit my local:  Misión San Francisco de Asís.  

all photos in this post by Lynne Rutter December 2011. 
click on images to view larger


  1. Hi Lynne,

    I have been in several of the California Missions; this one is truly special!

    The ornamental painting is superb!

    Wishing you and yours all the best in 2012

    Art by Karena

  2. Thanks for these terrific pics.. I didn't know how beautify these early Spanish churches are - really inspiring colour, texture and pattern!

  3. thanks for visiting, Karena and Annie!

  4. Hi, Lynne — I'm so glad you had your camera with you! I'm really taken with the beams of the Soledad chapel. Somehow they remind me of the classic gradated angel wings. Have a happy, healthy new year.

  5. Hi Lynne,
    I contacted you a while ago about using some of your lover's eyes photos and have since loved following your blog. I can't tell you how much I love this post. After the insanity of the holiday season, to sit and study the beautiful,simple use of color and form, in the peaceful sanctuary of the missions, literally slowed my heart rate down. Ahhh... I may just sit here and stare at the images for another hour....if I can do so without my family finding me and someone calling out "Mom, where's the ....(fill in the blank)??!!!" Thank you, thank you and best wishes for the new year.

  6. Beautiful photos, Lynne. Dr. Mendoza and his archaeology students at CSU Monterey Bay have worked at a number of missions along the Central Coast. That work was featured in the university's magazine in 2010. See it here:



  7. Mark, there may actually be a correlation- in my experience no decor in a church is without some symbolic connection. HCH I am glad you enjoyed this, imagine how calming being in the space is!

  8. Joan, thanks so much for visiting my blog and sharing that link! I have noticed more restoration happening and was consulted about the painted ornament at the Royal Presidio Chapel myself (although I wasn't available at the right time) and hope to visit it now that it's finished. There is a nice article about that restoration mentioning Dr Mendoza here: http://www.traditional-building.com/Previous-Issues-10/DecemberProject10Monterey.html

  9. Great pics, Lynne! I find it ever so inspiring to see photos of original art, done by passionate folks. We don't have anything like the West coast missions here in Ohio, so seeing these is a visual treat for me for sure.

  10. I love that. A little exotic to a european eye but also familiar in a way. What would be the art of painting without the catholics ?? :)

  11. hi Ann, we are constantly reminded here that California has a very different history than the rest of the US, being part of Mexico and before that Spain, and before that, wild untouched native American land. English as a language (or culture) was not common here until relatively recently.

  12. Hi Pascal, I too find the ornament exotic, but the placement of it very familiar. I think the designs were influenced by the native artists and the locally available pigments. And where indeed would art be without patrons? The Catholic Church understood the value of a beautiful space. at least, they used to.

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