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Jewel of the Missions

By Linda Tancs

The legend of the swallows is a captivating facet of Mission San Juan Capistrano in California.  According to the tale, a priest at the mission became very upset when a local innkeeper kept destroying the nests that cliff swallows were building in the crevices of the inn’s roof.  He invited the swallows to build their nests instead at the mission, established in 1776 by a Franciscan priest.  And the invite did not go unheeded.  Old mud nests clinging to the stone church, the swallows arrive to rebuild their homes every year in March–on the nineteenth day, as a matter of fact–St. Joseph’s Day.  The event is marked by an annual celebration at the Mission on 19 March that includes ringing of historic bells, live mariachi music and a special guest lecture on cliff swallows.  The birds leave for their winter home in Argentina in October.

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