PRESERVING OUR VALLEY HERITAGE 2013
Santa Catalina de Bononia de Los Encinos - Holiday Card by Gerald Fecht 2012
In the year 1791, a group of Spanish explorers climbed their way through what is now called the Sepulveda Pass and entered the San Fernando Valley. Within that expedition, led by Gaspar de Portolå, was Franciscan friar Padre Juan Crespi. The adventurous Spaniards were seeking an inland route from Santa Monica Bay around the impassable jagged rocks of the Malibu coast.
Father Crispi wrote in his journal: "We saw a very pleasant and spacious valley. We descended into it and stopped close to a watering place, which is a large pool. Near it we found a village of heathen, very friendly and docile. We gave this plain the name of Santa Catalina de Bononia de las Encinos. It has on the hills and its valleys many live oak and walnuts.
The site where the Portolå Expedition stopped can be visited to this day. It is the beautiful Los Encinos Historical Monument on the northeast corner of Ventura and Balboa Boulevards. The native Tongva Village has long disappeared but the warm spring that quenched their thirst forms forms a charming pool at the site. Descendents of the ancient Tongva still reside throughout the Los Angeles area. Early Spanish colonists called the road that passed Los Encinos northward toward the Mission San Juan Buenaventura, El Camino Real. Today called Ventura Boulevard, it is one of the busiest highways in the United States.
The California live oaks (los encinos) that inspired the first European title for the San Fernando Valley, though endangered still grow throughout the region. Alas, few people today know of the Italian nun who was the Valley's first patron saint.
Saint Catherine of Bolognia (Bononia in Spanish) was born in 1413 near the oldest university in Europe - founded in 1088 AD. She was raised as the privileged child of an aristocratic family, but rejected her advantages to serve her religion as a Franciscan sister in the Poor Clares, followers of the beloved saints Clare and Francis of Assisi. Catherine spent her life in service to the poor, in study and the creation of works of art. Today, Santa Catalina de Bononia is invoked as the patron saint of artists and as the protector of California live oak trees.