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   Chapter 4 No.4

Picture and Text / 1893 By Henry James Characters: 12247

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


The Pala Campanile

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Every lover of the artistic and the picturesque on first seeing the bell-tower of Pala stands enraptured before its unique personality. And this word "personality" does not seem at all misapplied in this connection. Just as in human beings we find a peculiar charm in certain personalities that it is impossible to explain, so is it with buildings. They possess an individuality, quality, all their own, which, sometimes, eludes the most subtle analysis. Pala is of this character. One feels its charm, longs to stand or sit in contemplation of it. There is a joy in being near to it. Its very proximity speaks peace, contentment, repose, while it breathes out the air of the romance of the past, the devoted love of its great founder, Peyri, the pathos of the struggles it has seen, the loss of its original Indians, its long desertion, and now, its rehabilitation and reuse in the service of Almighty God by a band of Indians, ruthlessly driven from their own home by the stern hand of a wicked and cruel law to find a new home in this gentle and secluded vale.

As far as I know or can learn, the Pala Campanile, from the architectural standpoint, is unique. Not only does it, in itself, stand alone, but in all architecture it stands alone. It is a free building, unattached to any other. The more one studies the Missions from the professional standpoint of the architect the more wonderful they become. They were designed by laymen-using the word as a professed architect would use it. For the padres were the architects of the Missions, and when and where and how could they have been trained technically in the great art, and the practical craftsmanship of architecture? Laymen, indeed, they were, but masters all the same. In harmonious arrangement, in bold daring, in originality, in power, in pleasing variety, in that general gratification of the senses that we feel when a building attracts and satisfies, the priestly architects rank high. And, as I look at the Pala Campanile, my mind seeks to penetrate the mind of its originator. Whence conceived he the idea of this unique construction? Was it a deliberate conception, viewed by a poetic imagination, projected into mental cognizance before erection, and seen in its distinctive beauty as an original and artistic creation before it was actually visualized? Or was it mere accident, mere utilitarianism, without any thought of artistic effect? We must remember that, to the missionary padres, a bell-tower was not a luxury of architecture, but an essential. The bells must be hung up high, in order that their calling tones could penetrate to the farthest recesses of the valley, the canyons, the ravines, the foothills, wherever an Indian ear could hear, an Indian soul be reached. Indians were their one thought-to convert them and bring them into the fold of Mother Church their sole occupation. Hence with the chapel erected, the bell-tower was a necessary accompaniment, to warn the Indian of services, to attract, allure and draw the stranger, the outsider, as well as to remind those who had already entered the fold. In addition its elevation was required for the uplifting of the cross-the Emblem of Salvation.

It is evident, from the nature of the case, that here was no great and studious architectural planning, as at San Luis Rey. This was merely an asistencia, an offshoot of the parent Mission, for the benefit of the Indians of this secluded valley, hence not demanding a building of the size and dignity required at San Luis. But though less important, can we conceive of it as being unimportant to such a devoted adherent to his calling as Padre Peyri? Is it not possible he gave as much thought to the appearance of this little chapel as he did to the massive and kingly structure his genius created at the Mission proper? I see no reason to question it. Hence, though it does sometimes occur to me that perhaps there was no such planning, no deliberate intent, and, therefore, no creative genius of artistic intuition involved in its erection, I have come to the conclusion otherwise. So I regard Pala and its free-standing Campanile as another evidence of devoted genius; another revelation of what the complete absorption of a man's nature to a lofty ideal-such, for instance, as the salvation of the souls of a race of Indians-can enable him to accomplish. One part of his nature uplifted and inspired by his passionate longings to accomplish great things for God and humanity, all parts of his nature necessarily become uplifted. And I can imagine that the good Peyri awoke one morning, or during the quiet hours of the night, perhaps after a wearisome day with his somewhat wayward charges, or after a sleep induced by the hot walk from San Luis Rey, with the picture of this completed chapel and campanile in his mind. With joy it was committed to paper-perhaps-and then, hastily was constructed, to give joy to the generations of a later and alien race who were ultimately to possess the land.

On the other hand may it not be possible that the Pala Campanile was the result of no great mental effort, merely the doing of the most natural and simple thing?

Many a man builds, constructs, better than he knows. It has long been a favorite axiom of my own life that the simple and natural are more beautiful than the complex and artificial. Just as a beautiful woman, clothed in dignified simplicity, in the plainest and most unpretentious dress, will far outshine her sisters upon whose costumes hours of thought in design and labor, and vast sums for gorgeous material and ornamentation have been expended, so will the simply natural in furniture, in pottery, in architecture make its appeal to the keenly critical, the really discerning.

Was Peyri, here, the inspired genius, fired with the sublime audacity that creates new and startling revelations of beauty for the delight and elevation of the world, or was he but the humble, though discerning, man of simple naturalness who did not know enough to realize he was doing what had never been done before, and thus, through his very

simplicity and naturalness, stumbling upon the daring, the unique, the individualistic and at the same time, the beautiful, the artistic, the competent?

The Store and Ranch-House at Pala.

A Suquin, or Acorn Granary, Used by the Pala Indians.

The Old Altar at Pala Chapel, Before the Restoration.

In either case the effect is the same, and, whether built by accident or design, the result of mere utilitarianism or creative genius, the world of the discerning, the critical, and the lovers of the beautifully unique, the daringly original, or the simply natural, owe Padre Peyri a debt of gratitude for the Pala Campanile.

The height of the tower above the base was about 35 feet, the whole height being 50 feet. The wall of the tower was three feet thick.

A flight of steps from the rear built into the base, led up to the bells. They swung one above another, and when I first saw them were undoubtedly as their original hangers had placed them. Suspended from worm-eaten, roughly-hewn beams set into the adobe walls, with thongs of rawhide, one learned to have a keener appreciation of leather than ever before. Exposed to the weather for a century sustaining the heavy weight of the bells, these thongs still do service.

One side of the larger bell bears an inscription in Latin, very much abbreviated, as follows:

Stus Ds Stus Ftis Stus Immortlis Micerere Nobis. An. De 1816 I. R.

which being interpreted means, "Holy Lord, Holy Most Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, Pity us. Year of 1816. Jesus Redemptor."

The other side contains these names in Spanish: "Our Seraphic Father, Francis of Asissi. Saint Louis, King. Saint Clare, Saint Eulalia. Our Light. Cervantes fecit nos-Cervantes made us."

The smaller bell, in the upper embrasure, bears the inscription: "Sancta Maria ora pro nobis"-Holy Mary, pray for us.

The Campanile stands just within the cemetery wall. Originally it appeared to rest upon a base of well-worn granite boulders, brought up from the river bed, and cemented together. The revealing and destroying storm of 1916 showed that these boulders were but a covering for a mere adobe base, which-as evidenced by its standing for practically a whole century-its builders deemed secure enough against all storms and strong enough to sustain the weight of the superstructure. Resting upon this base which was 15 feet high, was the two-storied tower, the upper story terraced, as it were, upon the lower, and smaller in size, as are or were the domes of the Campaniles of Santa Barbara, San Luis Rey, San Buenaventura and Santa Cruz. But at Pala there were no domes. The wall was pierced and each story arched, and below each arch hung a bell. The apex of the tower was in the curved pediment style so familiar to all students of Mission architecture, and was crowned with a cross. By the side of this cross there grew a cactus, or prickly pear. Though suspended in mid-air where it could receive no care, it has flourished ever since the American visitor has known it, and my ancient Indian friends tell me it has been there ever since the tower was built. This assertion may be the only authority for the statement made by one writer that:

One morning just about a century ago, a monk fastened a cross in the still soft adobe on the top of the bell tower and at the foot of the cross he planted a cactus as a token that the cross would conquer the wilderness. From that day to this this cactus has rested its spiny side against that cross, and together-the one the hope and the inspiration of the ages, and the other a savage among the scant bloom of the desert-they have calmly surveyed the labor, the opulence, the decline, and the ruin of a hundred years.

One writer sweetly says of it:

It is rooted in a crack of the adobe tower, close to the spot where the Christian symbol is fixed, and seemed, I thought, to typify how little of material substance is needed by the soul that dwells always at the foot of the cross.

Another story has it that when Padre Peyri ordered the cross placed, it was of green oak from the Palomar mountains. Naturally, the birds came and perched on it, and probably nested at its foot, using mud for that purpose. In this soft mud a chance seed took lodgment and grew.

Be this as it may the birds have always frequented it since I have known it, some of them even nesting in the thorny cactus slabs. On one visit I found a tiny cactus wren bringing up its brood there, while on another occasion I could have sworn it was a mocking-bird, for it poured out such a flood of melody as only a mocking-bird could, but whether the nest there belonged to the glorious songster, or to some other feathered creature, I could not watch long enough to tell.

Other birds too, have utilized this tower from which to launch forth their symphonies and concertos. In the early mornings of several of my visits, I have gone out and sat, perfectly entranced, at the rich torrents of exquisite and independent melody each bird poured forth in prodigal exuberance, and yet which all combined in one chorus of sweetness and joy as must have thrilled the priestly builder, if, today, from his heavenly home he be able to look down upon the work of his hands.

It must not be forgotten, in our admiration for the separate-standing Campanile of Pala, and the general belief that it is the only example in the world, that others of the Franciscan Missions of California practically have the same architectural feature. While the well-known campanile of the Mission San Gabriel is not, in strict fact, a separate standing one, the bell-tower itself is merely an extension of the mission wall and practically stands alone. The same method of construction is followed at Mission Santa Inés. The fachada of the church is extended, to the right, as a wall, which is simply a detached belfry. And, as is well known, the campanile of San Juan Capistrano, erected after the fall of the bell-tower of the grand church in the earthquake of 1812, is a mere wall, closing up a passage between two buildings, with pierced apertures in which the bells are hung.

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