Back to Index

Catholic churches in Southern California



Evelyn Aleman clarifies her background: "I was born in the U.S. and my parents were originally from El Salvador, Central America. I did, however, study at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid". She compares my reports on the cathedral of San Fernando in San Antonio and what she has observed in Southern California. It is curious that in the old Mexican territory there should be churches named after San Fernando, i.e. King Fernando III of Castille and León, who conquered Cordoba, Seville and most of Southern Spain from the Moors. Perhaps the conquest of America was compared with the conquest of Andalusia. Evelyn says:: "The Church of San Fernando [see below] is a very good example of how Catholic churches are changing across Southern California -- churches with a large Latino/ Hispanic following. For example, the Church of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Los Angeles is located in an area with a large immigrant population from El Salvador. The church, which, when I was growing up in the area, had mostly an Irish American congregation, was simple -- and perhaps reminded me more of an Anglican church. Today, the choir (coro) consists of young men and women who sing the homily to the sounds of cumbias. The saints featured throughout the church have changed to resemble those of the changing population (i.e. el Santo Niño de Atocha). There are many more saints, and large gates now divide the small chapels from the main altar. It certainly reminds me of churches that I have seen in Latin America. At the same time, there is mass in English for the families whose children attend the local parish school and must serve on Sunday (as altar boys and choirs). I understand that in East Los Angeles the choir (coro) is composed of mariachis.

I baptized my daughter last year at the Church of San Fernando, one of the oldest churches in Southern California. The priest was German, and he conducted the service in English and Spanish. When my husband and I married several years ago at St. Joseph's in La Puente (southeast of LA), the priest not only conducted the ceremony in English and Spanish, but also took the time to explain the symbolism behind each activity to our guests (Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, etc.). Granted, it was a very, very very long ceremony - but everyone seemed to enjoy learning about the tradition".

My note: "Cumbé" is a Black dance from the Caribbean, and "cumbia" must be the orchestra which plays the music. It may come from "cumbo" a gourd, which can be used as an instrument. Neither word is in Corominas, the standard authority. Can someone tell us more about "the Holy Child of Atocha?" The railroad station Atocha in Madrid is named after a church devoted to it, but I have been unable to find the original Atocha, or ther story attached to it.

Ronald Hilton - 6/6/02


Webmaster