On August 2, 1769, the Portola expedition, which was marching to Monterey Bay to establish a Spanish claim to Alta California, camped along the Los Angeles River. They named the river El Rio de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula in recognition of the jubilee of Our Lady of Los Angeles of the Porciuncula which was observed the previous day. This important celebration in the Franciscan calendar remembers the day when St. Francis of Assisi founded his Order in 1208, and honors the village chapel, (the Porziuncula or little portion of land), where he was inspired.1 Now totally enclosed within the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi, the Porziuncula (Porciuncula) has a six-part mural painted on the sanctuary wall in 1393 by Ilario da Viterbo. The central panel, "L'Annunciazione," depicts the Archangel Gabriel announcing the divinity of Christ to the Virgin Mary as she receives the Holy Spirit from angels surrounding God in Heaven.2 That section, replicated by Piczek in Byzantine tesserae from Pietra Santa, Italy,3 was dedicated on September 4, 1981--the Los Angeles Bicentennial--by Cardinal Timothy Manning as a reminder of the religious connection to the naming of our city. The mosaic is located at the same place on the facade of the Plaza Church (officially known as "Our Lady Queen of Angels") where Henri Joseph Penelon executed a fresco in 1861 depicting two angels and Our Lady holding an infant Jesus. What was perhaps the earliest outdoor public mural in Los Angeles, it remained visible until 1950 when it was plastered over.4Footnotes
1"Assisi and the Basilico of San Francesco, Renzo Chiarelli, tr. by Paul Garvins, Bonechi Editore, Firenze, c. 1975, pp. 59-62; "El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles: An inquiry into early appellations," by Rev. Francis J. Weber, Archdiocese of Los Angeles Archives, Los Angeles, c. 1968, pp. 4-8.
2 "Ilario da Viterbo," Enciclopedia della Pittura Italiana, c. 1951, p. 1255; "Gothic Art," Encyclopedia of World Art, Vol. VI, c. 1962, p. 601.
3 Letter from Isabel Piczek to Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, re: Estimate for mosaic mural, December 18, 1980; photo of mural, Downtown News, September 15, 1981, p. 6.
4 "Owen's Historical Account (1784-1960)", originally published in March, June, 1960 in the Quarterly of the Historical Society of Southern California, reprinted in "The Old Plaza Church: A Documentary History," Compiled and Edited by Msgn. Francis J. Weber, c. 1980?, pp. 44-46.