Feb 5, 2018
I love Bodega. I’ve been in West Sonoma County my entire life, my mother and uncles were also raised here, and my Grandparents landed here back in 1969. My grandmother Andrea is well known locally for her role in the community as a journalist. She owned the Bodega Bay Navigator for years and has since written three books, working on others every day. I’m writing a couple books of my own in my off time. Otherwise, I consider myself a busy student. My mom, Heather, followed Andrea in her journalism by writing the Grassroots Graton column until she died last October. I’m optimistic that in writing this column, I will become closer to my community, learning more about the people and places I admire.
The first landmark you see coming into Bodega is theSaint Teresa of Avila. In 1860, the famous settler Jasper O’Farrell and his brother John donated the supplies and land needed for the church and hired the ship builders to construct it. St. Teresa was dedicated in 1862, making it the oldest church in continuous use in Sonoma County.
It was seen next door to the old schoolhouse in the famous 1963 film “The Birds.”Alfred Hitchcock attended services while filming the movie. More recently, there is a funeral scene in “The Ghost and the Whale” that features St. Teresa de Avila.
Shortly after the church began serving its community, the Italian immigrants poured into the region joining the Irish and the local Catholic population rapidly outgrew the church.
In 1872, the ship builders decided the best way to keep the entrance and alter intact was to cut the church in half, and fill in the middle to expand for the masses. You can still see where this modification occurred, when you look at it from the side.
At this time, they built the steeple that is captured so well in the black and white Ansel Adam's portrait “Church and Road” of 1953. Adams’ family since generously gave the rights of the photograph to the Ladies Guild, who sells a limited number of copies, puts on fundraisers and helps with maintenance.
The building was restored 1954-55, then again 1967-74. The late Gary Sauter restored the steeple to its original beauty, alongside the magnificent doors and stained glass windows. St. Teresa became a California Historic Landmark in 1968.
There are two more unique parts of the church’s history. In 1886, they received an 850 pound cast-iron bell that ended up being too heavy for the bell tower. It was relocated to one out back that eventually deteriorated, so it found its home at the bottom of the driveway. Secondly, a relative of the O’Farrell’s, Ellen Orr, died in childbirth and was buried behind the church – it’s the only grave at the site.
Saint Teresa de Avila is Jasper O’Farrell’s sister’s patron saint. She wisely said that "It is love alone that gives worth to all things." Let it remind us the power of love this season. With or without a Valentine, we can all use more love in our lives.
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