By Emily Drooby
It was a grim scene when the roof of the 249-year-old San Gabriel Church collapsed. The view inside was even worse. Debris littered the pews – much of it burnt beyond recognition. It took 50 firefighters almost three hours to get the blaze under control.
Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles toured the extensive damage.
He also presided over the Sunday mass at the mission’s nearby Chapel of the Annunciation, which was untouched by the flames.
“We are sad for what we have lost, but this fire changes nothing” Archbishop Gomez said. “Mission San Gabriel will always be the spiritual heart of the Church in Los Angeles, the place from which the Gospel still goes forth.”
Noone was injured in the blaze. The church had not reopened after closing its doors during the pandemic. Instead, it was undergoing renovations ahead of its upcoming 250-year anniversary. Because of this, many historic paintings and artifacts had been removed and firefighters were also able to save others.
“We were able to keep the artifacts intact, the museum is in tact,” said Mayor Denise Menchaca, of San Gabriel.
Still, the loss is very difficult for the local Catholic community.
“Such a historical place, a lot of memories for me personally, but I’m sure a lot of memories for the whole community,” said John Guitierrez, a parishioner at the church.
“It’s so sad,” added fellow parishioner Sara Guitierrez. “It’s tragic for this city, it’s our jewel.”
The mission was established back in 1771 by Saint Junípero Serra – a Franciscan priest who founded across California – and led the church’s missionary efforts with Native Americans on the west coast.
He’s also come under fire, with several statues of him being toppled as critics accused him of oppressing Native American culture.
The investigation is still ongoing, right too early to say what caused the fire.
“t was heartbreaking, I won’t lie,” explained parishioner Terri Huerta, “but I have cried out my tears. We have to just be thankful that the building is just still up.”