June 27, 2023  |  By:   |  Press Releases  |  

–Newly Curated Mission Museum Tells Story of Mission’s 252 Year History–

The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel campus will fully reopen to the public on July 1, Feast Day of St. Junípero Serra founder of the Mission, for the first time in three years due to the pandemic and arson in July 2020.

The Mission Church will include the restored retablo or altarpiece dating back to the 1790s when it arrived at the Mission from Mexico City, which was damaged in the earthquake of 1812 and arson of 2020. The Mission Museum will feature a newly curated exhibit called “Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, 1771-1900: Natives, Missionaries, and the Birth of Catholicism in Los Angeles.” The museum’s galleries offer a comprehensive look at the history of the Mission as a center of faith through baptismal records, textiles, baskets, paintings, and audio recordings.

“We look forward to opening wide the doors of Mission San Gabriel once again.  As the place where the Gospel of Jesus Christ was first proclaimed in this land, the Mission is the spiritual home of all Catholics in Los Angeles,” said Father Parker Sandoval, Vice Chancellor for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “As the place from which settlers came to establish the City of Los Angles, the Mission is also a treasure for all Angelenos. The Mission church has never looked more beautiful in 252 years, and the museum has never been as comprehensive in presenting the perspectives of all peoples with a role in the unfolding story of the Mission.”

The museum’s galleries include 30 original artifacts; Wall of Names, a memorial in honor of the Native American community; space dedicated to the contemporary Gabrieleño community; and audio components of 18th century music composed for the California missions and performed by USC Thornton Baroque Sinfonia, directed by Adam Knight Gilbert, as well as readings from the letters of St. Junípero Serra. In 2015 Pope Francis canonized St. Junípero, calling him the country’s first Hispanic saint, who should be considered “one of the founding fathers of the United States.”

“I think what’s been unusual here – and both challenging and exciting – has been our work to create a narrative of the mission’s history that honors and reflects diverse interpretations of the history of the mission and its many legacies,” said Steven Hackel, a University of California, Riverside history professor. “The reopening of the museum is the culmination of a productive dialogue between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the Gabrieleño community, historians, curators, and a group of experts who helped us evaluate the mission’s collection and present it in a responsible and respectful manner.”

Planning the exhibit was a multi-year effort led by Dr. Hackel who worked alongside a team of collaborators, including associate curator Yve Chavez, a Gabrieleno/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians member and assistant professor of art history at the University of Oklahoma.

“We are not a federally recognized tribe, so the mission is an important space for our history and community,” said Dr. Chavez. “We are still part of a living community, with many of our members still active Mission San Gabriel parishioners. Through this exhibition we also want to give non-native audiences a look at how many people were here and hope they walk across the breezeway from the main museum to the building where community photos are on view to see we are still here, practicing and celebrating our culture.”

The exhibit features a complete name list of 7,054 Native Americans who were baptized at the Mission between 1771 and 1848. Franciscans documented every baptism, marriage, and burial they performed at Mission, records that descendants now can consult to learn about their ancestors.

Among the museum’s historical treasures on display are a 1775 confessional booth; a 1770s silk beaded, rose-colored chasuble woven in China and designed in Mexico by liturgical authorities — likely worn by St. Junípero Serra during one of his visits to the mission; religious paintings created by leading artists of 17th and 18th century Mexico, and a unique set of Stations of the Cross from the 19th century.   

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