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Ancient secret of California missions sparks debate (VIDEO)

By Paul Jones | 23 Jun 2011

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An "illumination" of the figure of St. Michael at the Mission San Miguel. (Photo: Paul Jones)

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For centuries, California’s missions have stood as historic state landmarks, and windows into the state’s past. But a new understanding of the aging buildings is emerging. Archeologist Ruben Mendoza of California State University Monterey Bay says the missions have hidden a secret for centuries — one involving everything from advanced astronomy in the supposedly science-averse church, to appeals to paganism by Catholic padres seeking converts in the new world.

Mendoza is studying recently discovered “illuminations,” which are alignments of missions’ main windows such that they project a beam of light onto statues of saints and containers of the Eucharist on holy days. The effect is present in many missions throughout California and even some in Latin America.

Mendoza believes the effect is intentional, and that it shows that the padres who founded the missions were using the sun to keep hyper-accurate church calenders synchronized. It also emphasizes the sun in Catholic masses, in order to win over native peoples in America, many of which engaged in sun-worship.

This video explores the phenomenon as well as the curiosity, support and criticism Mendoza’s theory has sparked.

Editor’s Note: In the year 1809, when the Mission Church was completed and dedicated, the dedication took place on the Feast Day of St. Joseph, which in 1809 was celebrated on April 22, contrary to the speaker in the video.

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