SAN GABRIEL (CBSLA) — The building that houses the 250-year-old San Gabriel Mission sustained extensive damage in a fire on Saturday morning.
“It’s such a historical place — a lot of memories for me and a lot of memories for the whole community,” said one parishioner.
Flames raced through the mission on Junipero Serra Drive and Mission Road around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday. Firefighters were able to stop the blaze before it reached the altar and the museum.
Inside, the wood and pews were completely gutted, while the exterior — which is made of concrete — still standing.
“It’s so sad. It’s tragic for the city. It’s our jewel,” said parishioner Sara Guitierrez.
The mission has remained closed for services as a result of the pandemic and was under renovation. It was scheduled to reopen next week for mass.
Founded 250 years ago, the mission has been inside this building which has been standing for 215 years. It previously survived the Northridge quake.
The facility brings with it a long history of the establishment of missions in the state of California.
Los Angeles Archbishop José H. Gomez tweeted, “Our beloved San Gabriel Mission, founded in 1771, devastated by fire before dawn. St. Junípero Serra, pray for this land that you helped to found.”
Serra is recognized as one of the most important Spanish missionaries in the world. He founded nine of the 21 missions in California, but among some advocates, he is regarded as a controversial figure who forced California Native Americans to convert to Catholicism and destroyed their tribes and culture.
The California Catholic Conference of Bishops released a statement defending Serra’s impact, saying “he made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population.”
Last month, crowds knocked down a statue of Serra in downtown Los Angeles and protested at other locations about public depictions of the missionary. As a precaution, the San Gabriel Mission removed its Serra statue shortly after the protests.
The cause of the mission fire remains under investigation. Meanwhile, leaders are already taking steps to rebuild. A fire restoration fund has been set up for the church and is available on the San Gabriel Mission Catholic Church website.