Rick Springfield is famous for singing about the girlfriend of his friend Jessie, and raving about her body and her eyes, and wanting to make her his – or get a girl like that anyway. Before that, though, in the early 1970s, Mr. Springfield’s tunes were quite different. I’m thinking of Speak to the Sky (1972), which is a very spiritually – if not religiously – inspired song.
He wrote other similar songs, whose keywords were love, help, believe, magic, and mission. A song was once described as “Theme from Mission” and, given the genre, I thought that Rick Springfield got featured in some hippyish movie about some Christian Mission that I was not aware of, but then again I am very ignorant about movies.
A few weeks ago I found the whole album, from 1974, called “Mission Magic.” Looks like I was way off, not even close. The mission in Mission Magic is not the mission I was thinking of, since the real title is Mission: Magic (no one would think that the Mission Impossible franchise is about a church, right?), and it collects the songs of an animated TV show, a spin-off of the the Brady Kids, featuring Rick Springfield as himself and some kind of magical school.
Be as it may, you know when you get a wrong first impression about something but you are unable to shake it off? For me Mission Magic will remain associated to a religious mission, and it kept playing in my mind yesterday, as I visited the San Juan Capistrano mission.
Yup, that was a long intro!
Californian missions give you a fascinating perspective into the timeframes of the two coasts of the United States. Just as Washington was crossing the Delaware and working on his beef with the British, 2,600 miles west of that the Spaniards were minding their own business colonizing California and establishing twenty-one missions, from San Diego to Sonoma (aka San Francisco Solano) between 1769 and 1823.
I’ll be quick and to the point. The Spanish Missions in California are stunningly European. Of course, they remind me of Spain (well, duh!) but they also remind me of Northern Italy, inasmuch as the whole area underwent a lengthy Spanish dominion whose legacy can still be seen today, in the architecture but also in the language.
They give you a profound sense of having exited space and time to step into something radically unique. Yes, I said they look European, but they look European in an uncanny way.
They are partially intact and partially ruined, but both elements are so intertwined that you think they were just supposed to look like this, a little bit like Greek temples (or those family friends who looked already old when you were a kid and it’s very strange when they die because how can you age and die if you’ve always been old?).
This missions are undoubtedly real churches, even if – I admit – I always find a slightly awkward hiatus between the Spanish and Hispanic origins of these missions and the white/Irish hierarchies they are usually administered by.
Then again, they do not feel like churches to me. They also feel like churches, but mostly like temples to a visual esthetic, to the holiness of peace and quiet and beauty and calm.
As I let my mind wander a little more in the recollection of this incredible place, and as I pledge to visit and photographs more of these Spanish Missions, I go back to Rick Springfield and think that, after all, this place was definitely about Mission Magic.
All photos were taken with the Fujifilm X100V camera and are all available as fine art prints. Disclaimer: Spanish Missions in California, like all forms of human colonization and expansion, have highlights and shadows. It is way too easy to draw a one-sided critique or praise of their historical and social influence: this blogpost intends to focus only on the esthetic experience provided by the Mission today, in its current shape and function.