California Missions and Presidios: The History and Beauty of the Spanish Missions by Randy Leffingwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve been curious how many of the old Spanish missions still have their original graveyards. This book provided some guidance through its photographs (because, let’s face it, old graves are picturesque), but for the most part, the graveyards didn’t rate much mention in the text. My search will have to continue.
That said, the photographs in this book are really lovely. They capture the interiors of the old churches and the details of their decorations. Sunlight paints the rooms. Outside, the skies are always the luminous Californian blue. Flowers nod and trees drowse and things seem very peaceful. Where appropriate, the museums or recreated cells of the padres are staged as carefully as a photo shoot. This book, whether a spur to exploring California’s Spanish — and Mexican — history or as a souvenir after such a trip, is beautiful to page through.
It falls down in the text, unfortunately, The same details are repeated over and over: the fathers select the mission site. The natives help build a church. It floods. There’s an earthquake or a fire. The soldiers molest the natives. There’s an uprising. Spain hands the missions over to Mexico, who doesn’t want the bother. The missions are sold, then mistreated, then almost destroyed. Rinse, repeat. There’s really little point in reading the whole book cover to cover, as I did, because the story is the same every time.
I would have liked to know more about the native tribes and what they lost. I would have liked to know more about daily life in the missions. I would have liked to know more about those mission churchyards and who is buried there. Who marked their graves and why? How many forgotten Native Americans lie there and what’s been done to perpetuate their memory?
There’s still room for a definitive guide.
I bought my copy at one of the bookstores in San Francisco — probably Green Apple — but if you’re out of town, it’s also available on Amazon.
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