Historic Mission Cemetery, San Juan Capistrano

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NO TOMBSTONES, LOTS OF BODIES

This Mission Cemetery, the historic one located adjacent to Serra's Church on the San Juan Capistrano Mission site, is considered sacred and not open to the public. I'm not afraid of no ghosts; why is it closed?

You can peek through a locked gate, which is how I was able to take a few photos, but despite the overwhelming sense of history you get from standing there and knowing it is a cemetery, there's not much to see or experience. I've read there were anywhere from 2000 to 3000 burials on the site, the last ones in 1850. Whatever the number of burials, that seems a bit cramped considering the layout and space that is enclosed here. Maybe they were folded in half: Even then, California real estate was at a premium.

Tragedy struck the mission on the morning of December 8, 1812, the "Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin", as a series of large earthquakes shook Southern California during the Sunday morning service. The 7.5-magnitude earthquake wrenched the doors to the church shut, trapping everyone within the interior. When the ground finally stopped shaking, the bulk of the nave had come crashing down, and the bell tower was completely destroyed. Forty native worshipers who were attending service, and two boys who had been ringing the bells in the tower, were buried under the rubble. All of these individuals lost their lives.

I've read conflicting reports, but at the very least, the two boys are buried in this historic cemetery, and possibly all of the other forty persons eventually removed from the rubble are, too. 

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From what I gather, the then-wooden markers that would have been placed at each person's burial plot have all disintegrated; there are no headstones to speak of within the walls that I was able to see. If any were moved from one cemetery to another - the bodies and or the headstones, or if any are preserved outside of the view of the public, I couldn't find that information. There are, however, two markers outside the cemetery gate, one for Monsignor St. John O'Sullivan and the other for Jose Antonio Yorba.

"In this holy place lie the bodies of those who built the mission; may their souls rest in peace."

Monsignor St. John O'Sullivan recognized the mission property's historic value and worked tirelessly to conserve and rebuild its structures. He is buried at the entrance to the historic cemetery and a statue raised in his honor stands at the head of the crypt. O'Sullivan's tomb lies at the foot of a Celtic cross the Father himself erected as a memorial to the Mission's builders. (Here's a fun side-note: Probably all or most of the laborers of the mission were natives, who were said to have been locked up at night so they didn't escape, get drunk or otherwise run afoul of the jackwads that ran the place. Neat!)

The black granite marker for Jose Antonio Yorba memorializes the Spanish soldier who helped found the Mission.

Besides not finding any headstones in the cemetery, I have also not found any official haunted stories about this old cemetery proper. Maybe I am getting information incorrect, yet I only find some neat little ghost tales about the newer cemetery, built to the east of the historic mission cemetery. This is a shame because with settlement, toil and tragedy there should be some good ghosts spooking around the grounds. Maybe I should just be happy that most of them are at peace, or maybe the ground is just too hard and they can't get out at night. Whatever the case, I am happy the cemetery is preserved and remembered, taken care of, unlike many others throughout our nation which are forgotten, ghosts or no ghosts.

 The graveyard, seen here enclosed at top right, behind the Great Stone Church and adjacent to the wing of the quadrangle housing Serra's Church.

The graveyard, seen here enclosed at top right, behind the Great Stone Church and adjacent to the wing of the quadrangle housing Serra's Church.

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