Meandering throughout the grounds of Mission San Fernando Rey de España allows one to breathe in the tranquility and beauty that abound here. The historical site provides a peaceful step back in time, a welcome respite from Los Angeles’ often frenetic pace.
Founded on September 8, 1797 by Padre Fermín de Francisco Lasuén de Arasqueta, Mission San Fernando Rey de España was the seventeenth mission established, of the twenty-one missions that compose El Camino Real, and was the fourth one founded by Lasuén.
The layout of the mission is a traditional quadrangle, with a long building called the Convento branching off the quadrangle. The Convento, which was the mission padre’s living quarters, now houses an array of fascinating artifacts and period furnishings on view to the public.
Also located amidst the manicured gardens are the church, cemetery, historical museum and archival center. With its beamed ceilings and red terracotta tile floors, the historical museum displays a variety of items–from mid-18th century Venetian glass trade beads to an authentic Gregorian Chant on parchment– in the rustic showcases.
A visit to the mission church further adds to the enlightening experience. Covering nearly the entire east wall of the mission chapel is the “Ezcaray Altar” named after the town in Spain where it was first built in the early 1600s. In the center of the structure is a statue of St. Ferdinand, patron saint of the mission, shown being welcomed into heaven by the Blessed Trinity, and flanked by an angel holding a crown on a pillow, as well as St. Mary Magdalene.
Since 1925 when the altar was shipped here, it had been a part of a private art collection until it was donated to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the 1940s. For the next several decades it remained in storage. Then, during an 18-month long project, the walnut altar was re-constructed from 523 pieces, which were formerly from three different sanctuaries in the Church of St. Philip Neri in Ezcaray. Installed in the San Fernando Mission chapel in 1991, the reassembled altar is not an actual replica, but rather a stylistic approximation of what the altar would have looked like. However, the statue of St. Ferdinand, which is the focal point of this unique piece of antiquity, is not from the original church, but rather was carved for the mission when it was built in 1797, and was included because of its historical relevance.
At the height of its prosperity, in the early 1800s, the mission was a farming and agricultural strong hold. Besides producing cloth, blankets, wine, soap, shoes, hides, and tallow, mission workers grew a variety of crops and tended to thousands of livestock. In 1806, 12,868 bushels of corn and wheat were harvested; by 1819, the mission had 12,800 heads of cattle.
Today, a wealth of California history lives on at the mission. Although in 1834, the mission was secularized, it was returned to the church in 1861. It is now an active Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles with Sunday Masses at 9:00 and 10:30 a.m. After Mass, those who have worshipped are welcome to freely roam the grounds and visit the museum and other points of interest.
(SAN FERNANDO MISSION is located at 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills, CA 91345. For Information call: 818-361-0186. The museum and grounds are open everyday from 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Admission is: Adults: $4; Children: $3)