My fondest memories of a convent are of frequent visits to the convent next door to my maternal grandparents’ home – a beautiful garden shining in the sun… the serenity… the silence… the ability to block out all there is, beyond its walls.
Carmel Mission is all this and more. Founded in 1770 by a Spanish missionary and a Franciscan priest Father Junipero Serra, ‘San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission’ (better known as Carmel Misson) is named after an Italian Archbishop, Borromeo. The Mission is located in the city Carmel-by-the-sea, which is along the Carmel River. One of the earliest Europeans to set foot here was a Carmelite Friar and hence the name of the place. Carmel Mission takes its name from the place and not the Carmelite order.
Fr.Serra landed in Mexico and travelled all the way up the western coast, to California, establishing Missions along the way. Carmel Mission was the second one founded by him and is one of the 21 Missions along the Californian coast – 9 founded by him and 12 after his death. At that time, California was inhabited by native Indian tribes and wasn’t even a part of the US territory. After Mexico gained independence from Spain, the Mexican government demanded that all Mission property be return to the local tribes and the missionaries were forced to leave. The Mission was soon in ruins. USA annexed California in 1846. The Roman Catholic Church regained control over the Mission in 1863.
Fr.Serra was beatified in 1988 and is on his way to sainthood. His tomb is inside the church, right next to the altar. Also preserved, are remains of his original wooden casket. His remains were transferred to a modern casket after exhumation years after his death.
Carmel Mission is an active Parish with Masses held every day. However, during the Visitor Hours, it is open to all public. The self guided tours (a map will be provided) begin at the Visitor Center/Gift Store. There is a admission fee of $6.50. The Mission houses a few museums that exhibit the history and heritage of the region and the Mission. The tiny rooms used by Fr.Serra and other priests have been restored and preserved.
I loved the ambiance of the Mission and the typical Spanish Mission style of architecture, the rustic looking walls and the creepers along them, the abundance of beautiful plants etc. I would highly recommend a visit to the Mission as it is undoubtedly a part of the Californian heritage irrespective of the your own personal faiths and beliefs.