Six years ago, a 6.5-magnitude earthquake rocked central California just days before Christmas. While hundreds of buildings were rattled and ravaged, the extensive damaged done to one historic site was especially heartbreaking.
The 16th of California’s 21 famed missions, Mission San Miguel Arcangel housed the state’s only surviving example of original Spanish Colonial artwork. The elaborate murals were painted in 1821 by local Salinan Indians under the direction of Esteban Munras, a Spanish amateur painter who ran a trading business in nearby Monterey. The quake not only put their integrity in jeopardy, but caused millions of dollars in structural damage to the five-foot-thick adobe walls that they covered.
As the dust settled, the future looked bleak to parishioners struggling to protect their church from permanent closure. The landmark was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2006 listing of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, and in October of this year, good news finally came; after a $10 million seismic retrofit, Mission San Miguel reopened – threatened Munras murals preserved.
And with the holidays, this story gets even sweeter. Amidst all the seasonal news clutter chronicling hectic air travel and no-holds-barred mall parking lots, a heartwarming story appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Christmas Day reporting that, for the first time in six years, Mission San Miguel parishioners would celebrate the holidays in their historic church.
Here’s just one highlight from the piece:
'It's like a rebirth,' said Reimi Campomenosi, a parish member who was alone in the church watering the Christmas trees when the quake hit that Dec. 22. 'The roof was lifted up and debris came raining down. Afterward, I turned off the gas and electricity, and went around blowing out the candles.' Last week, choir director Campomenosi played the church organ at a Sunday Mass – the first time she'd sat down at the instrument, which had been damaged, in six years. Services in the church resumed only a couple of months ago. Until then, a dwindling band of parishioners would worship in the local senior center, in a cramped museum room or outdoors, on blankets and under umbrellas.
You can catch the full text of the article online to learn more about Mission San Miguel and its successful preservation. Also, be sure to visit PreservationNation.org to learn more about America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places – a program that has identified more than 200 threatened historic treasures since 1988, and that is currently accepting nominations for 2010.