Santa Ysabel Asistencia: A Tribute to a Bygone Mission – “bygone” because the original mission no longer stands. Founded in 1818 by Padre Fernando Martin, Mission Santa Ysabel was actually a “sub-mission”, an “assistencia” to the much larger Mission San Diego de Acala, located in the city of San Diego. Over time, the original mission eroded and by 1899 only an “outline” of the chapel remained and the other mission buildings “sunk into indistinguishable heaps of earth.”
Santa Ysabel Asistencia, aka Mission Santa Ysabel, is located in the backcountry of San Diego County. The Santa Ysabel Asistencia site is a California Registered Historical Landmark. On a recent beautiful and typical blue-sky weekend, Charlie and I ventured out to explore.
Rolling hills, dotted with cattle and horses, fill the landscape in this part of San Diego County. When traveling the backcountry of San Diego County, it is hard to imagine that a big city metropolis is within 30 minutes to an hours drive. Charlie and I enjoy exploring our neck of the woods because there is always something new to see and although Charlie has lived here all of his life and I’ve lived here 30+ years, we have yet to see it all!
Located on several acres, Mission Santa Ysabel welcomes all with rustic wooden signs.
An El Camino Real Mission Bell marks the location.
St. John the Baptiste Catholic Church
In 1924, Father Edmond Lapointe oversaw the building of a new Mission Revival Style chapel and christened it St. John the Baptiste Catholic Church. As you enter the grounds of Mission Santa Ysabel, the church is obscured from view by lovely trees. Taking a photo of this church, without the trees, is a challenge!
But, I managed to get the front entrance! The plaque to the left of the door is the California Registered Landmark designation and says:
Santa Ysabel Asistencia Site – Father Fernando Martin celebrated the first mass on September 20, 1818 at a site nearby, an outpost of Mission San Diego. By 1822, Santa Ysabel had a chapel, cemetery, granary, many houses, and 450 neophytes. After secularization in the 1830’s, priestly visits were rare. Tradition asserts that services have been held here since 1818, under ramadas erected against one wall after the roof caved in. The present chapel was built in 1924.
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 369.
Originally registered April 3, 1940, plaque placed by the State Department of Parks and Recreation in cooperation with the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, Santa Ysabel Tribal Council, and Squibob Chapter, E Clampus Vitus, September 26, 1987.
St. John the Baptiste Catholic Church’s bell, donated in 1993 to mark the Mission’s 175th anniversary, located to the left of the entrance.
A side view of St. John the Baptiste Catholic Church, located on the Mission Santa Ysabel site.
Another Mission bell.
Exterior view of one of the stained glass windows.
Exterior view of the stained glass window above the front entrance. Notice the swallows nests? Appears they have swallows, too, like Mission San Juan Capistrano (see my earlier post: Operation Swallow Adios for photos of Mission San Juan Capistrano)!
The front door to the church is always open.
Beautifully simple and serene, the interior of the chapel and the altar have a warm, welcoming glow.
A stained glass window – is this John the Baptiste?
Another stained glass window – is this Father Fernando Martin?
A stained glass window of Mary.
A stained glass window over the altar.
An altar statue of Jesus…
An altar statue of Mary with baby Jesus…
A religious icon on the walls of the chapel – there is much to see inside this little church.
A museum is attached to the church; just follow the signs!
Inside the museum are photos, artifacts and this lovely diorama. Signage on the walls shares the history of the Santa Ysabel Asistencia and the surrounding area. San Diego County has the largest number of Indian Reservations of any county in the United States;18 distinct reservations.
Santa Ysabel Cemetery is located on the Santa Ysabel Asistencia site. The day of our visit, several people were visiting the cemetery and out of respect for their privacy, I didn’t photograph it. This part of the diorama will have to do.
And, the diorama even includes homage to the Mystery of the Lost Bells.
The Mystery of the Lost Bells
Bells are an important part of Mission life, ringing for meals, religious services and special events, special visitors, etc. In 1846, Santa Ysabel Asistencia acquired two bells, the oldest in Alta California (one dating back to 1723 and the other dating back to 1767). When the Mission’s roof caved in (1850), these bells were moved to a free-standing wooden post structure and hung there until they were stolen in 1926.
The Gift Shop
There is a little gift shop, Padre’s Gift Shop, on the Santa Ysabel Asistencia site.
Sadly, the day we visited, it was closed.
The Gardens and Picnic Area
There isn’t a “formal” garden area on the grounds except at the front entrance. Rather, the entire grounds are a garden of mostly indigenous trees and plants.
Such as this giant agave plant…
Prickly pear cactus and bees enjoying their fruit…
Gorgeous California Incense Cedar trees reach for the sky…
with towering trunks and fabulous foliage.
This is a close-up of Mary with her lovely driftwood crown. Atop a rock outcropping made into a fountain called the Grotto of Our Lady.
Manzanita (trees or are they bushes?) dot the grounds…
many species of manzanita are endangered, rare…
they have the loveliness red bark, with sculptural twisted trunks and bright green leaves – truly beautiful!
There is a picnic area in the shade of the California Incense Cedar trees. Charlie and I packed a lunch, so it was nice to find this area and not have to eat in our car!
Bees gathering nectar from a rosemary bush in bloom…
A bench to sit and enjoy the gardens…
A squirrel happily munching on berries…
A statue of Mary adorns the front formal garden area…
An old-fashioned water spicket embellishes a side garden..
The Old Mission Site
The site of the old Mission Santa Ysabel is in a field near the buildings that make up the Mission today. Marked with in-ground plaques and wooden signs…
a statue of Jesus on the cross…
and a towering windmill!
Reaching to the sky, the lemon yellow blades whirl in the wind.
These photos were taken with a 300mm zoom lens, so imagine how tall this windmill is!
The windmill’s blades spinning in the wind…
Also, an Indian ceremonial area stands out in stark relief to the barren landscape.
A highway sign along the road, rolling hills dotted with trees and blue skies as far as the eye can see.
Parts of the surrounding area are privately owned, so when visiting, respect the “No Trespassing” signs!
(other posts about San Diego County)
- Mission San Antonio de Pala
- Presidio Park: A Monument to San Diego’s Historic Presidio
- Mission San Luis Rey de Francia