Out & About—The Great Stone Church, the Wrightwood Earthquake & dubious construction methods

Out & About

During my early years as a teenager 55 years ago, I wanted to be an anesthesiologist, but only because I could spell that word.

When I was in my mid-teens, I wanted to be a history teacher, but then I found out how much money teachers in Texas made. Not enough….

History, though, very much has been a part of me all my life, so when my husband told me a few months ago that he wanted to go to Mission San Juan Capistrano, well, I’m all there….

So yesterday we drove up to the Oceanside Transit Center (51 miles) and took Metrolink to San Juan Capistrano, about a 40-minute train ride. We spent six hours wandering around the city and the mission, both of which are extraordinarily fascinating.

I’ll have more about both the city and the mission in future blog posts, but today I wanted to share some pictures of the ruins of the Great Stone Church:

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

In the second picture, that long walkway was what one might call the Great Hall inside the church. A model of the church, built in the shape of a cross, provides a better perspective; the Great Hall is the base of the cross:

Great Stone Church model at Mission San Juan Capistrano

The Great Stone Church took nine years to build, 1797-1806. It was used as a house of worship for six years, 1806-1812. Mother & Father Nature destroyed it in mere minutes with one of their earthquakes on December 8, 1812. Forty people died, all Native Americans attending mass and in the process of being converted to Christianity. I wonder why the almighty god would want to kill forty of his converts………….

Earthquakes also have fascinated me throughout my life so I went to find out more about this one. Records are poor (which is just one of the many reasons why I don’t take anything literally that is in the Bible; records from 200 years ago are poor but somehow records from 2,000 years ago are complete?). The earthquake involved here is called the Wrightwood Earthquake or, sometimes, the San Juan Capistrano Earthquake in recognition of the death toll.

While the exact location and size of the earthquake are unknown, evidence from sediments along the San Andreas Fault, as well as analysis of tree rings of pines growing near the fault, has led to the earthquake being identified as one along the Mojave segment of the San Andreas Fault, possibly resulting in as much as 106 miles of surface rupture, and a theorized epicenter near Wrightwood. The magnitude has been estimated at Mw 7.5.

The Great Stone Church was built completely of stone; ergo, its name. The earthquake caused the mortar to fail and the church collapsed. No surprise to me. Look at the stone—no rhyme or reason as to size and placement:

Ruins of the Great Stone Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, California

Here a stone, there a stone, make it big, make it small…. Each stone will conduct stresses differently, so while one stone might be great at absorbing stresses, another stone might be great at concentrating those stresses. And of the stone and mortar, the mortar will be the weakest part of the construction. Of course, I have the advantage of an extra 225 years of construction knowledge and experience….

The Southern California Earthquake Data Center states:

That even a magnitude 7.5 on the San Andreas fault could have such dire consequences on a structure as far away [about 80 miles] from the fault as the mission church seems unusual, but it was reported that the construction of the church was of dubious quality.

So now I’m wondering why this almighty god would let his people build a church using construction methods of dubious quality…………….

I'm Zoey the Cool Cat, and I approve this post

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17 thoughts on “Out & About—The Great Stone Church, the Wrightwood Earthquake & dubious construction methods

  1. acflory

    I’m not fond of churches but I love church architecture, and this one is quite beautiful. I’m sure it was awe-inspiring when it was whole, but I love the look of crumbling age. It looks as if it’s been there for millenia rather than just a few centuries.

    Liked by 1 person

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