Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 13, 2003
In search of St. Agnes
Evocative mission faces re-creation
St. Agnes - Feast Day, January 21
By TED FITZGERALD
Special to the WCR
Life comes to Santa Ines when a brown-robed, sandalled Franciscan padre slowly and deliberately makes the arduous climb to the campanario (bell tower) platform to ring three toneless bells, a call to early Mass and a discordant greeting to the new day.
Long shadows from feathery-leafed mesquite trees mottle adobe walls in the early sun as a few parishioners, responding to the summons, follow an arched colonnade to occupy wooden benches in the oblong mission chapel.
Mass is said beneath decorated roof beams (vigas) that break the lines of heavy ceiling planks in the severe, box-like nave of the thick-walled frontier mission building. With the exception of the reredos wall, a very convincing example of trompe-l’oeil decoration, plaster walls display a few very old statues and late 18th century Stations of the Cross. Serenity prevails here.
And during the Mass, St. Agnes, patron of the mission, observes in effigy the Eucharistic celebration from a place of honour in a niche high above the ancient altar.
St. Agnes (Ines in Spanish, anglicized to Ynez), symbol of chastity, was a Roman girl martyred in 304 at the age of 13 for refusing to worship state idols. She was a true martyr – electing to follow her Christian beliefs even in the face of death. Wealthy and beautiful, she chose her Saviour over marriage to any of numerous suitors, having “consecrated her virginity to Christ.”
Betrayed to the authorities and sent to a brothel when she refused to recant, she proved miraculously unapproachable and was later beheaded. The popular saint is traditionally shown in art with a lamb (“agnus” in Latin) and a palm frond.
After the later, more popular 8 a.m. Mass, other parts of the restored mission complex are open to the public for self-guided or audio tours.
Santa Ines is the 19th in the chain of 21 missions, extending almost the length of California, that was established by Blessed Junipero Serra and his Franciscan associates. Built in 1804 and virtually destroyed in an 1812 earthquake, it recovered to become one of the more successful church establishments. Its effective end came in 1834 when newly independent Mexico secularized all Church holdings.
Situated in the fertile Santa Ines Valley, the mission once owned vast expanses of fields and pastures. Since its founding by padre Estevan Tapis, the complex has experienced almost 200 years of development, neglect, abandonment and sporadic attempts at rejuvenations. Fortunately an historic restoration foundation now has an ongoing project to ultimately recreate the entire mission quadrangle.
An active parish, Santa Ines has, in addition to two daily Masses, three celebrated on weekends (all bilingual). A great range of activities, both religious and civic, is centred on the mission throughout the year.
A little museum attached to the church exhibits artifacts representing phases in the mission’s history – rare documents, decorated music manuscripts, a cherished painting of St. Agnes. Priceless 18th-century vestments are displayed in a separate vestry.
The tree-shaded mission grounds are an artist’s and photographers’s delight. Buff adobe walls contrast with the gray-green fronds of ancient mesquite trees. And it’s a relaxing place where visitors may view the old cemetery, a garden, fountain and remnants of old archways.
Most visitors to Santa Ines will leave these park-like grounds to explore the town of Solvang. It’s one of California’s most popular tourist destinations – a full-fledged Danish village replete with gift and craft stops, restaurants and European atmosphere.