The Deacon's Bench

How did you mark All Souls Day?
A California paper looks at one local tradition:

A sacred parade
That was the scene in the near-ghost town of Hornitos on Monday night as about 250 candle-carrying people made the steep, narrow walk up to St. Catherine’s Catholic Church to celebrate All Souls Day.

In the Catholic faith, Nov. 2 is the day that the living honor the dead, and Hornitos is one of the few places in California that keeps the old tradition alive.

During the 1850s, when gold was king in California, Hornitos was a thriving town of 15,000 souls. Named for the graves in the cemetery that looked like “little ovens” or “hornitos,” the town was known as “the wickedest town in the Mother Lode.”

But when the gold ran out, so did the population. Now the town has only about 100 full-time residents, and the crumbling buildings are all that are left of a once-booming gold-rush town.

But once a year Hornitos comes alive, the tiny church on the hill overlooking town is opened, and a solemn, quiet procession makes its way up the hill to the cemetery.

“This is a part of the culture and history of this town,” said the Rev. Steve Bulfer, the priest who led the procession.

Hornitos was settled by Mexicans who brought their celebration of All Souls Day, or the Day of the Dead.

After the steep walk up the hill, Bulfer stood at the grave of Dona Candelaria, a Hornitos resident who died in 1903 at the age of 86. Candelaria brought the tradition of the Day of the Dead to the tiny hill town, and after she died, participation dwindled during the 1930s and early 1940s.

But now the Hornitos Patron’s Club is in charge of organizing All Souls Day, and what used to bring 40 or 50 people to the town now brings up to 300, depending on the weather.

Cary and Jackie Griffith, of Hornitos, were two of the people who came Monday night to make the walk to the cemetery.

“It’s truly a religious experience,” said Jackie Griffith.

“We come here to honor the people who are buried in the cemetery,” said Cary Griffith. “I know a lot of them.”

Follow the rest, and see more picture, here.

Photo by Bea Ahbeck / Merced Sun-Star
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