Ruins! A pile of stone, standing in a country of mud-tracks, adobe ranches, and timber-sheds?
Yes, broken dome, projecting rafter, crumbling wall, and empty chancel, open to the wind and rain, poetic wrecks of what, in days gone by, have been a cloister and a church.
A wide and ragged field, enclosed within a fence of sun-dried bricks, surrounds the fane, marking the sacred precincts with a dark and perishing line.
No human form is seen, no human voice is heard.
An owl, disturbed in her siesta, lifts her brow and hoots; a lizard hisses through the weeds; a catamount, unused to tramp of horse and bark of dog, deserts her hole and darts into the bush.
Near by, the ocean laps in measured tones along
a sandy beach.
A cry of gulls and cormorants, rising from a rock below the cliff, is answered by a yell of sea-lions, fighting for their mates; but these mysterious voices from the depths of nature seem to feed the silence, and make the solitude complete.
Rein up, and scan the scene; a dip in the Pacific coast
, between the heights of Monte Toro and the Pinal Grande
; a scene to soothe the eye with physical beauty and surprise the ear with sacred and familiar names.
A spur runs out from the sierra towards the ocean, covered with pines and oaks, until the ridge breaks over the waters in a frown of rocks.
Some Spanish pilgrim called that spur Carmelo Range, the sheltered nook below the bluff Carmelo Bay.
The peak in front of Final Grande
is Monte Carmelo, and the foremost headland on the coast Carmelo Point.
North of this sacred spur, but running side by side, a tamer spur drops down from Monte Toro; falling with a gentler slope and clothed in softer woods; a spur on which laurel and madrone take the place of pine and oak.
A glen divides these spurs, through which descends a stream, answering to the Kishon in Galilee, and called by the old pilgrim Rio Carmelo.
Lovely as a painter's vision is this glen; here, hollow ground and dripping well; there, ledge of rock and slope of sward; and here again, gardenlike copse and musical cascade; each nook commanding a view over cypress knoll, bright stream, green down, and blue illimitable sea.
Nestling in a hollow at our feet, half hidden by the forest growths, yet with an out-look over ridge and ocean, lie the broken stones and falling rafters of San Carlos
, a Franciscan church, built by Red men, natives of the country, acting under a company of Spanish friars.
These friars, heralds of the first White Conquest
of the Slope, brought into this corner of the earth the torch of Gospel light, hoping to convert and save some remnants of a savage and neglected tribe.
Hitching our mustangs to a pine, and bidding our dogs keep watch, we vault the fence of sundried bricks, and feel our feet within the sacred courts; as sacred in this hour of ruin, as when cross and pyx were carried round these walls by holy men,
and angelus and vesper swelled from the choir.
The soil is black, the odour aromatic; for at every step, you tread on thyme and sage.
Sweet herbs and grasses make their home along these shores.
Not long ago, the site now covered by the banks and wharves of San Francisco
, was known as Yerba Buena
, otherwise Good Herb, the Spanish
name for mint; and yet these court-yards of San Carlos
are deserted wastes, choked up with briars, and scratched by catamounts into deep and treacherous holes.
Along the outer fence stand wrecks of school and bastion, hut and hospital, as desolate as a heap of ruins on the Sea of Galilee
Blocks in which the Red-skins lodged and the Christian
fathers prayed, stand open to the sky, hedged in by weeds, and overgrown with grass.
Some hundreds of natives lived within this fence, yet nothing but these heaps of dust and earth remain.
Adobe walls soon melt away.
The summer sun is frying them to dust; the winter rain is washing them to earth.
Each zephyr steals some grains of loam and drops them over wood and field.
Ere long, lovers of the past will seek for them in vain.
The stone pile may stand a few years longer than
the earthen fence.
is a church of poor materials, put together in the crude though showy Mexican
No beauty feeds the eye. No magic clothes a gateway; no enchantment lurks in shaft and skyline; yet a sacred edifice is always solemn, and a broken arch affects our feelings like the epitaph on a friend.
The pathos of San Carlos
lies in the fact of its being the ruin of an Indian's church.
No door impedes our entrance to the nave, no rail prevents our passage to the altar-steps.
A portion of the roof still rests on solid beams; the rest has fallen in, and helped to choke up nave and chancel.
No one seems to care.
Starting the squirrels from their holes, the night birds from their nests, we pick our way from stone to stone.
A chapel stands near the gate, and a door within the chancel opens into a sacristy.
Some mural paintings still remain on wall and vault; such painted scrolls and pious messages as you read in village churches of Castille.
la Bemos Aj
A door, now rotting into dust, conceals the sacristy.
Closed by a wooden peg, this door suggests that some poor soul still cares for the old place.
Yes, some one cares.
A Rumsen chief, old Capitan Carlos
, comes in once a year, to smooth the falling stones and keep his memory of the church alive.
On pushing the door ajar, a ray of light, a rush of air, go with us into the sacristy.
The floor is mud. A broken table leans against the wall.
Above this table hang some poor oil pictures, in the Spanish
school of sacred art; a faded Sefora of Carmelo, and by way of balance, a yet more faded Jesu Christo
Covered by dust and grime lie votive offerings of the village sort; among the heaps, a bunch of forest leaves, and a chaplet of paper flowers.
All sorts of creeping things defile the floor and wall.
The room smells moist and mouldy; so we turn our faces towards the chancel, leaving our Lady
of Carmelo in the gloom, and shutting the door on spiders, centipedes, forest leaves, and artificial flowers.
This chancel has a purer interest than the sacristy.
Here stood the shrine, and here the sacred lamps were lit. Some scraps of monkish art still light the walls; poor chequers, lozenges, and flaming hearts.
Like other savages, the Rumsen of Carmelo had to learn religion through the sense of sight.
The Cross has fallen down.
Inside the church, but near the door, some stakes are driven into the ground.
These stakes are stems of pines.
One stake has just been driven into the earth; a second has been snapt by falling stones.
Who plants these stems of pine in holy soil?
Here lies the mystery of that aged chief.
Each stake betrays an Indian grave, and tells the story of a lost cause and vanishing race.