Friday, January 28, 2022     Volume: 22, Issue: 48

Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 18th, 2015, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 16, Issue 2 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 16, Issue 2

La Purisima offers events that bring history to life


In order to get to the La Purisima Mission—once you’ve already arrived and parked—you must cross a small footbridge that spans a creek bed wreathed with trees and shrubbery. Out in the clearing, the creek’s tree line hides the fleet of glittering automobiles, and all that exists is the long, aged mission building, its silent grounds, and those who have come to visit.

Volunteer docent John Steele demonstrates the art of candle making at La Purisima Mission’s Peoples Day.

The La Purisima Mission State Historical park holds a series of events throughout the year that do more to give a sense of the rich history lying in wait on the La Purisima grounds. Mission Life Days, Purisima’s People Day, Mountain Men, and the El Pastor events all include live docents portraying the different kinds of people who either lived at or came through the mission during its heyday more than two centuries ago. The first Purisima’s People Day of the year was March 7, and it included several volunteer docents presenting throughout the mission.

Whether inside a workshop area, or out on the grounds like docent John Steele, each volunteer was demonstrating and explaining a craft essential to life on the mission. Steele was in between making batches of candles and explained his method, supplies, and the tools needed, all without breaking character.

“We make two kinds of candles at the mission; we make tallow candles and beeswax candles,” he said. “The candles that we use here at the mission are mainly tallow candles, but we use the beeswax candles in only one place, namely the church, and we use the tallow candles everywhere else.

Peoples Day includes demonstrations of all kinds, from carpentry to weaving with a loom.

“The reason for that is,” Steele explained, “the tallow candles, when they burn, they give off a sooty, smoky kind of residue and they don’t smell very good; beeswax candles, on the other hand, are clean burning, and church law says we must use clean burning candles in the church.”

Surrounded by tools of an age gone by, and big blocks of beeswax, Steele answered visitors’ questions, even as they anachronistically pulled out smart phones to photograph him.

Further down the length of the mission building, a couple of East-facing rooms were crowded with other crafty docents and onlookers. The low light in the cool, dirt floor rooms provided a calming environment for demonstrations of carpentry technique—all the benches on the mission grounds are made there—and even a demo on a large weaving loom. A group of families and couples surrounded docent Susan White, who sat and operated one of La Purisima’s looms and fielded questions about the age-old technology. White also took the time to answer the questions of a fourth grader, who quickly jotted down notes and took a picture for his mission project.

Get out there
The La Purisima Mission offers Mission Life Days with live re-enactors portraying mission life on March 21, April 25, and July 25 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Peoples Day happens on May 2, July 11, and Sept. 12 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. El Pastor happens on May 23 and June 20 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mountain Men day includes demonstrations of how mountain men lived March 27 through 28 and Aug. 21 through 22 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The La Purisima Mission State Historical Park is located at 2295 Purisima Road, Lompoc. Cost is $6 for parking. More info: 733-3713 or

“I love the interaction with people, both those who work here and the visitors,” she said. “I think the history of this place is important to our culture; it’s important for us to know what went before.”

The La Purisima Mission State Historical Park hosts a variety of historical and cultural events throughout the year. Some will involve the volunteer docents like White and Steele, while other events, like the Mountain Men event slated for the last weekend in March and August, will include traveling re-enactors demonstrating the skills and crafts of yesteryear. More information is always available at

Arts Editor Joe Payne minds his own beeswax. 
Contact him at

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