San Gabriel Mission: Fire destroys 249-year-old California church | News | DW | 12.07.2020
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San Gabriel Mission: Fire destroys 249-year-old California church

The fire destroyed the roof and most of the interior of the San Gabriel Mission in Los Angeles. Authorities are investigating the fire's connection with the toppling of statues of Catholic priest Junipero Serra.

On Saturday, a fire destroyed the roof and interiors of a 249-year-old Catholic church in the state of California in the US.

San Gabriel Mission in Los Angeles was undergoing renovation to mark its 250th year.

The fire was reported in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The firefighters failed to control the fire from inside the church as the roof began to fall on them.

"The roof is completely gone... The fire traversed the wood rapidly. The interior is pretty much destroyed up into the altar area," said Paul Negrete, the San Gabriel fire captain.

The destroyed interior of the church

The destroyed interior of the church (picture-alliance/K. Birmingham)

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. The interior of the church had items dating back almost 200 years, including handcrafted statues brought from Spain. The altar was brought to the mission in the 1790s from Mexico.

San Gabriel Mission was scheduled to reopen next week after being closed for four months owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

The church was built in 1771 and made of stone, brick and mortar. It has previously been damaged by earthquakes in 1804, 1812, 1987 and 1994.

A controversial past

San Gabriel Mission was the fourth church in California to be established by Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest who was the founder of the California mission system.

Serra is accused of brutal colonial subjugation of Native Americans. Activists recently toppled statues of Serra in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles during the Black Lives Matter protests in the US.

San Gabriel Mission after the fire

San Gabriel Mission after the fire (picture-alliance/K. Birmingham)

Following the toppling of the statues, the San Gabriel Mission moved a statue of Serra from the church entrance to its garden.

A spokeswoman for the church said that the police had increased patrol and security around the church around two weeks ago. Paul Negrete said that the recent toppling of Serra's statues would be factored in the investigation into the fire.

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