A few miles beyond this we pause in a sheltered canyon and spread our
noonday lunch under a vast sprawling sycamore-if I should make a guess
at its dimensions I might lay myself open to the charge of exaggeration,
which some insinuate is the universal California failing. Out of
Oceanside the road soon takes to the highlands again and runs through
fields of yellow mustard and purple-pink wild radish blossoms-sad pests,
they tell us, for all their glorious color.
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Oceanside is a quiet little place with a large hotel down towards the beach, and her El Camino Real has departed from its olden course, for the mission of San Luis lies some four miles inland. Just out of the village we descend a winding grade into a wide green valley, and far to one side under a sheltering hill we catch the gleam of whitewashed walls surmounted by the characteristic mission tower. We soon draw up in front of the building, which has lately been restored-much to its artistic detriment, we are told. This is an almost inevitable result of restoration, it is true, but without restoration it would be impossible to preserve the crumbling fragments of these old adobe structures. San Luis Rey is considered by many good authorities to have been the finest of all the missions in its palmy days-a claim well borne out by the description of Dahant Cilly, a French traveler who visited it in 1827, when it was in the height of its glory. He wrote:
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"At last we turned inland and after a jaunt of an hour and a half we found before us, on a piece of rising ground, the superb buildings of Mission San Luis Rey, whose glittering whiteness was flashed back to us by the first rays of the day. At that distance and in the still uncertain light of dawn, this edifice, of a very beautiful model, supported upon its numerous pillars, had the aspect of a palace. The architectural faults can not be grasped at this distance, and the eye is attracted only to the elegant mass of this beautiful structure.... Instinctively I stopped my horse to gaze alone, for a few minutes, on the beauty of the sight.
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"This building forms a large square of five hundred feet on each side. The main facade is a long peristyle borne on thirty-two square pillars supporting round arches. The edifice is composed, indeed, of only a ground-floor, but its elevation, of fine proportions, gives it as much grace as nobleness. It is covered with a tile roof, flattened, around which reaches, as much without as within the square, a terrace with an elegant balustrade which stimulates still more the height. Within is seen a large court, neat and levelled, around which pillars and arches similar to those of the peristyle support a long cloister, by which one communicates with all the dependencies of the mission."
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We see before us now a huge, dormitory-like building adjoining the ancient church, which is also undergoing repair and restoration-an adobe structure with a beautiful tower which is about the only exterior remnant of the mission's ancient glory. A brown-robed, bare-footed Mexican priest responds to the bell and offers to guide us about the building. He conducts us to the church-a long, narrow apartment with high beamed ceiling, resplendent in the bright colors of the ancient decorations recently restored. The beautiful mortuary chapel-the finest in the whole chain of missions-was still in ruins when we first visited San Luis Rey, but two years later we found it restored in solid concrete. Its artistic beauty was sadly impaired by the improvement, but the preservation of the chapel is assured. We are glad, though, that we saw it when the crumbling remnants were covered with grasses and wall-flowers, and it was still redolent of memories of mission days. The quaint old cross in the cemetery has undergone like treatment, its rough brick foundation having been smoothly coated with cement and decorated with bright red stripes at the corners. About the only part of San Luis still in its original state, save for the destructive effect of time and weather, are the arches of the ancient cloisters, which stand in the enclosure to the rear of the dormitory and keep alive the sentiment always awakened by such memorials.
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Our guide told us something of life at the present time in the mission, which is now a training school for monks of the Franciscan order. There are eight brothers in residence who do all the work, each one having some particular trade, our guide being the tailor. They did much of the work of restoration, though, of course, some assistants had to be hired, mainly from the sixty parishioners of the church, most of whom are Indians. For his courtesy we offered him a gratuity, but he declined.
"The brothers must not receive gifts," he said. "I will take you to Father O'Keefe if you wish to give anything to the work."