My Wedding

My Wedding
Mission Carmel Basilica

On June 27, 1981, at 5:00 pm, I stood next to the altar in the Mission Carmel Basilica, waiting for my bride to appear from the courtyard about a hundred feet down the center aisle. Below me, entombed in stone crypts, were the bones of three men—Father Juan Crespí, diarist of the Portola expedition and a strong ally of Junípero Serra; Father Fermín Lausén, priest and successor to the presidency of the California Missions; and Father Junípero Serra, the man most influential in inaugurating the Spanish and Catholic colonization of California. Little did I know these three men would one day play a central role in my novel, Five Hundred Moons.
How I came to be standing in the Mission is a curious story. Jennie and I became engaged in February 1981, only five months after our first meeting. Jennie desired to get married somewhere in the forest, under an altar made of redwood fronds, and wearing a flowery embroidered dress. Her mother had other ideas. She suggested we marry in the Mission Carmel Basilica, where she got hitched to my future father-in-law, John, in 1950.
We decided to weigh our options. It so happened that on March 17, Saint Patrick’s Day, we called the Mission to inquire about a marriage date. We assumed all the June dates would be taken. The phone was answered by a visiting Irish priest who obviously had been celebrating the libationary holiday with ample amounts of communal wine. In a thick brogue accent, he informed us that, yes, we could be married there on June 27. In fact, he wrote it in the logbook and wished us a blissful union. Jennie’s mom was tickled to death when we gave her the news.
A few days later, we got a call from the sitting priest at the Mission, telling us we could not be married there because we didn’t belong to the Carmel Diocese, and furthermore, the visiting priest had no authority to schedule us. We were a little disappointed with the news and figured we’d look for another venue. But, as luck would have it, Jennie’s mom had a cousin who was a monsignor, a position fairly high up in the church hierarchy. So we appealed to Father Jim, who was a much-beloved family member.
Father Jim pulled a few strings, gently pushed his weight around, and persuaded his church brethren to grant us our wedding date where he would be the officiate. After a marriage encounter class, we were deemed suitable for each other and allowed to enter into holy matrimony in the crown jewel of the California Missions. Established in 1771, the reconstructed basilica is magnificent. One can feel the history in your bones as you walk the grounds and absorb the past humanity, both good and bad, that envelops its gardens, walls, cemeteries, and shrines.

Image source: Sheila Setter

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