“Will it be here that we shall find a place
which will not elude us, or which if it remains
does not exert on us a culpable attraction?
Or must we, leaning over the deck and
watching the shores glide by,
move forever onward?”
“What is the meaning of life? That was all-a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
― Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse
“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
In the mountains of southern California there is a lake with an island in its midst. Outside this island a majority of trees were consumed in a forest fire in 2003 (The infamous Cedar Fire). Many of the trees had stood 200-300 or more years. But on the lake’s island you can still walk through a landscape of beautiful ancient oak and pine trees. On a fall day, as I walked the island’s edges, I came upon this spot- a still standing glorious ancient survivor. Autumn perfection – Fall color surrounds, the air is crisp and clear, migratory birds call above and the sun rests on the horizon.
On my travels along the California coast this year I retreated from the 100 degree heat and the endless, unrelenting freeways into this otherworldly house of worship – the San Luis Rey Mission in Oceanside, California.
Here it is cool and still and with one step past the threshold the outside world simply ceases to exist. Here time stands still and the rarefied ambiance of 220 years takes over my being. One lone man sits in midday prayer before me.
Some time later, my being in balance, I depart through the church doors and, as I do, I recall the opening lyrics of the Elton John song “60 Years On”.
Who’ll walk me down to church when I’m sixty years of age
When the ragged dog they gave me has been ten years in the grave
And señorita plays guitar, plays it just for you
My rosary has broken and my beads have all slipped through.
— Bernie Taupin
St. Richards Catholic Church turned 60 last spring. I’ve created a fine art print above to capture how striking this humble Borrego Springs mission style church appears before the looming Santa Rosa mountains.
The background story:
1940s – No road, no telephone, just a name
Borrego Springs, California was barely connected to the outside world in the 1940s. There were dirt roads, no telephones, no outside electricity. The Catholic Church purchased land for the church site naming it the “de Anza Catholic mission,” after Juan Bautista de Anza, the early Spanish explorer who traversed the Borrego Valley in 1774.
1950s – Volunteers, money, new name
Built by volunteers and financed by 16 local Catholic families the church was completed in April, 1954. It’s final name – St. Richard Catholic Church.
1960 – Fire! send for help from Julian!
In 1960 the church survived a fire but was severely damaged. State park rangers and local residents fought the flames with garden hoses for over an hour until State Forestry fire equipment from the mountain community of Julian, California arrived – a 31 mile trip. After repairs the church was reopened.
1970 – 2001 How about some stained glass?
In the 1970s Julian, California glass artist James Hubbell installed windows along the side of the church. In 2001, world-renowned stained glass artist Sarah Hall, using glass from France and Germany, created an 8′ by 8′ foot stained glass window behind the church altar, illuminating the darkest part of the sanctuary.