On this day in the year 1781 a group of Spaniards founded the settlement they called El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora La Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula. As the name of a small village it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. It took longer to say the name of the village than it took to ride through it on a horse.
Over the years the village grew and the name got shorter. It became the city of Los Angeles. At this stage it is a huge metropolis and the name has contracted further so that most of us just call it L.A.
Portiuncula is the Italian for a small portion of land. Such a small portion was given to the hermits of the Valley of Josaphat in the 4th century where they built a small chapel. The chapel fell into disrepair but was renovated by St Francis of Assisi who had a vision from God telling him ” go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins”. Francis sold his horse and some of his fathers cloth to pay for the repairs.
After a row with his father and the local bishop Francis cast off his finery and became a beggar. He took the message from God to refer to the church in its entirety, rather than the small chapel of Portiuncula. Because of this story there is a river in California, a Basilica in Brazil and a Hospital in County Galway, Ireland named after the small chapel repaired by St Francis.
The Spanish name for LA translates as “The settlement of our lady the queen of angels of Portiuncula”
’tis but thy name that is my enemy;
thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? Tt is nor hand, nor foot,
nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
by any other name would smell as sweet;
so Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
retain that dear perfection which he owes
without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
and for that name which is no part of thee
take all myself……………………Juliet, Act II Scene ii, Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare