by Jarrell C. Jackman
The Spanish colonists in California were nothing if not religious. Almost every day, as far as I can tell, is a feast day for those of the Catholic faith and earlier this month, we celebrated two of them in the Chapel, if to very small crowds. Sometimes it is just Father John Yanek and I. Father is an active Catholic priest who has taken a deep liking to our Presidio Chapel, and with advance notice he arrives in his wheel chair to celebrate Vespers for the particular Saint whose feast day it is. On December 4, Father arrived for a Vespers service in Latin for our own Saint Barbara. In fact we have a very important original painting of Saint Barbara in the Chapel.
Then on 12.12.12, Father was again in the Chapel to celebrate another Latin Vespers service for Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Patron Saint of the Chapel. The Chapel extension, completed in 1797, was dedicated on December 12th of that year. The reconstructed Chapel was dedicated on the Our Lady’s Feast Day, December 12, 1985. These dates are commemorated on the altar of the Chapel for all to see. This past April Father also did a Vespers service and he often brings with him the magnificent Quire of Voyces to sing in Latin.
I consider these brief services a vital part of the living history we do at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park. With all the hectic activities I encounter on a day to day basis, it is very comforting to take off a few minutes to listen to Father singing in Latin in the Chapel . I have noticed how it adds to the visitor experience: some coming through the park cross themselves and sit through the service, others pass through and only stay briefly, but appreciate very much the beauty of the chapel and sonorous voice of Father.
Thirty thousand handmade bricks made by volunteers and the California Conservation Corps form the walls of the Presidio Chapel, on or very near the site where Father Junipero Serra said his last Founding Mass in 1782, two years before he died in Monterey. 2013 is the tercentennial year of the birth of Serra, and the Presidio Chapel is a wonderful place to come and contemplate that important fact.
Jarrell C. Jackman is the executive director of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.