Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Exploring the Mission Cemetery at San Miguel

Front Cemetery Gate at Mission San Miguel, © B. Radisavljevic
Cemeteries show when people lived and died. Headstones sometimes tell something about what a person was like or how he or she was remembered by family, friends, or acquaintances. They do not speak much of what happened between the dates of birth and death. This is the front entrance to the cemetery at Mission San Miguel. (If you want to enlarge a photo to see it in more detail. Just click it.)

Cemetery Sign at Mission San Miguel, © B. Radisavljevic
As I entered the cemetery, one thing that struck me was now impersonal it seemed. It appears that those buried here have been long forgotten by living people except, maybe, as generalities. Probably mot have no living family nearby. Many graves are not even marked. It is rare to see flowers or any other sign these graves have been visited by anyone but tourists or, perhaps, church members.

One thing  that struck me as I walked past the stones was how barren the cemetery seems. There are green trees and shrubs, but no grass and very little color to be seen. I wonder if this ever was green, since I don't even see dead grass. As you can see in the background, some of the landscaping is cactus. The cactus was starting to bloom in the middle of May.

Cemetery at Mission San Miguel, © B. Radisavljevic
As I walked farther back it became evident that this part of the mission has not yet been fully repaired after the earthquake of 2003. It's natural that the church was the priority, and its restoration was finished in 2009 so that it could reopen. The cracked walls, however, add to the mood of desolation I felt as I walked through and wondered about the lives of those buried in this piece of ground.

Crucifix in Cemetery at Mission San Miguel, © B. Radisavljevic
Looming above everything else in the cemetery is the crucifix. Jesus knew what it was to suffer and die. It is said the Native Americans were mistreated at the missions. Probably many were. Some may have been forced to convert and some may have been kept confined within these walls against their will.

Jesus died for the salvation of all -- the priests and the converts alike -- for all had sinned in the sight of God, just as we have. The shadow of the cross falls on this ground -- a symbol that God's love covers a multitude of sins.

We in this generation judge those in ages past according to our own culture's standards. God will judge all justly according to what was in their hearts. That is something we who live today will never really know.


  1. I have never been able to quite put my finger on why I find cemeteries so depressing. As a Christian, I know many of the bodies have been transformed and are in heaven with Christ. I think you put your finger on the very thing that causes me grief. Entire lives are reduced to a few words and dates. That is rarely a true representation of the individual buried beneath the stone. I love the way you spoke of the shadow of the cross. He does, indeed, cover a multitude of sins and I thank God! After reading your articles, I think I would much prefer a cross over my grave some day. A symbol of what I know and believe. A much better recount of who I am (or was) and where I will be. He is my savior, He has claimed my soul and I have claimed His redemption.

    1. What a beautiful comment and statement of faith, Cynthia. In some ways a cemetery is like a library of untold stories that few will know.

  2. You have a very lovely way of looking at things, and I love your pictures. The entrance is breathtaking, as I love old wooden doors and the cement walls seem so powerful. I love the cross as well, and the spiritual notes that you ended with. You may find this funny, but in the Philippines people go to cemeteries to jog, have picnics, walk their dogs, etc. It's because the cemeteries are well kept and serve as a large park in the city. Also, on All Saints Day Filipinos gather around the grave of their loved one, bring food and all the relatives just hang around together. There are so many stalls selling food, and it's really crowded. That's why on All Saints Day we avoid the roads because there are two cemeteries near our house.


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