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Cross returns to San Gabriel Mission

The 50-year-old metal relic is placed atop the landmark after being stolen four years ago and sitting in storage since it was found in 2006.

March 13, 2009|Ruben Vives

The San Gabriel Mission's wayward cross is back in its rightful place atop the historic landmark. Four years ago, on a cold winter night, someone sneaked into the mission and took the 50-year-old metal cross that was leaning against the church building.

Authorities eventually recovered the 8-foot, 100-pound cross, but it remained in storage until this week, when it was hoisted to its rightful place. Without giving details, officials at the mission said they had taken extra measures to secure the cross.

"We doubt anyone will want to take it," said Chuck Lyons, spokesman for the San Gabriel Mission. "You'll need a helicopter or a very tall ladder."

Most San Gabriel residents were thrilled when they heard the news.

"I'm happy it's back where it belongs," Sergio Romo, 42, said.

"It's historical and it means a lot for the local people here," added Henry Liao, 34.

It had been placed atop the mission in 1959, but was taken down when the structure was being retrofitted two years after the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake.

For more than a decade, it sat next to the mission -- until someone stole it. The cross was found in the backyard of a Pasadena home in April 2006, authorities said.

"It was standing upside down, and it had Christmas lights on," Lyons said.

The owner of the home was booked on suspicion of possessing stolen property. The charge against him was later dropped, Lyons said.

Still, questions about why anyone would take the cross linger.

"I don't know how anyone would have been able to take it; it's so heavy," parishioner Vicky Battaglia said. "And that it wasn't used for anything more significant?"

Lyons said the mission is still missing a 200-year-old painting of the Christ child. It was stolen from the mission in the 1980s. The suspect in that incident admitted that he sold the painting to a pawn shop, where it was purchased by an unknown buyer.

"Someone out there has a 200-year-old painting that they probably wouldn't be able to recognize," Lyons said.

The San Gabriel Mission was founded in 1771 by friars Pedro Benito Cambon and Angel Fernandez de la Somera. The original location of the mission was near Montebello, at the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue.

In 1775, the mission was moved to San Gabriel. Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district includes the mission, said the Los Angeles region was established with the founding of the mission.

On the L.A. County seal, the mission is shown -- minus its cross. It was put on the seal in 2004 after the county Board of Supervisors, reacting to a letter from the ACLU, voted to change the seal's design.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the original seal, which included a small cross, violated the separation of church and state. Now that the cross is back at the mission, will the seal be changed again to include it?

Supervisors say it's possible -- someday. "We're just happy the cross was relocated and placed back on top of the mission," Antonovich said. "It's wonderful."

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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