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August 17, 2007     534 Words

Restoring California’s Mission San Miguel

CINCINNATI—In May of 2006, descendents of central California’s Salinan Tribe gathered to honor Mission San Miguel Arcangel in an official ceremony designating the structure an endangered national treasure. In its colorful history, which dates back to 1797, the building has served as a church, saloon, dance hall and storehouse. A devastating earthquake in 2003 damaged its structure and fractured its adobe walls.

Recognizing its fragility and value, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named San Miguel one of the country’s 11 most endangered historic places. At the ceremony, Salinan Councilmember Barbara Tavena blessed the Salinans with sage intended to drive away bad spirits and invite spirits of healing and blessing.

The story of this holy mission and the efforts being made to restore it are explained in St. Anthony Messenger’s September cover article, “Restoring California’s Mission San Miguel,” by Wendy-Marie Teichert. After August 20, the article will be posted at:

Eager to secure their place in history, members of the Salinan Tribe returned in August of 2006 to help make replacement bricks. Joined by 200 other volunteers, the group produced 3,000 new bricks, using soil taken from the mission grounds. In addition to making the bricks that make up the physical structure of the building, Salinans contributed to the aesthetics of the interior with beautiful murals.

“The love of roots is what drives us to preserve the missions,” says Tribal Elder Shirley Macagni, noting that at least 95 percent of the tribe still lives in the territory they inhabited when the Spanish arrived in California. Their ancestral land is on California’s central coast between the Santa Maria River and the Pinnacles Mountains.

It’s a history linked closely with the Franciscans. Unlike other settlers of the American West, Franciscan Father Junipero Serra wanted to give the mission lands to the Indians after they had been trained in agriculture, construction and self-government. The Franciscans learned the native language, taught them how to play stringed musical instruments and trained them in the making of tile and adobe brick.

In recent years, some have contended that the native people were badly treated by the Spanish colonizers. Macagni disagrees with those who would use the alleged abuse of her people as an excuse to frustrate the repair of the missions. She feels the priests were not to blame and that the mistreatment occurred under the later Mexican government, which ousted the missionaries and left the mission converts stranded.

The sometimes controversial history of the Salinan Tribe is just as important to Macagni as the future. The Salinans gather yearly for discussion and renewal of old friendships; celebrating summer and winter solstice on Morro Rock, a volcanic peak that stands like a giant just off the coast.

By preserving Mission San Miguel, Macagni knows that she’s honoring and preserving the legacy of her people. “That is why we’ve been trying desperately to hang on to it,” she says, proudly. “We love our land and we love our heritage.”


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