Mission San Juan Capistrano is widely considered to be the most beautiful of California’s Spanish missions. It is famous for many reasons, not least being the miracle of the swallows, in which the little birds fly away on October 23, the Day of San Juan, returning each year on March 19, St Joseph’s Day, to rebuild their nests. Between 1797 and 1806, a great stone church was constructed, measuring 180 feet long and topped with seven stone domes and a bell tower. It collapsed during an earthquake in 1812, killing 40 people who are buried in a cemetery behind the church. I was fighting some demons on my trip to the US in 2011, one being a fear of earthquakes that developed as a result of me being caught up in the Great Earthquake in Japan earlier that year. I didn’t know the mission’s sad story until it was told to me while I was standing in the ruins (I probably wouldn’t have visited if I’d known). Surviving the visit without the ground shaking empowered me, or perhaps it was simply the tranquil setting, but whatever the reason, that visit had a healing effect.
Photo & text © Christine Salins
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