- The California Missions
- San Juan
San Juan Capistrano
Founded 30 October 1775
by Father Fermin
Re-Founded 1 November1776
by Fr. Junipero Serra.
- The Mission is a
registered Historic Landmark
and designated a National Historical
California State Historic Landmark Number 200
Jewel of the Missions"
Naming of the Mission:
This mission was named for
Giovanni of Capestrano, Italy. He lived during the 14th century and
was a noted theologian and warrior. He was born in 1386 and died 23
October 1456. He achieved sainthood in 1690. He was one of Father
Serra's favorite saints.
The mission is often
referred to as the "Jewel of the Missions" because of its
Also known as the Mission of the Swallow because of
the return of the swallows each year.
San Juan Capistrano is located at the Corner of Ortega Highway &
Camino Capistrano in Orange County in Southern California.
Interstate 5 to Ortega Highway, then go west one block to the
entrance on the right
San Juan Capistrano Mission was found twice. First founded on 30
October 1775 by Father Lasuen, it was forced to close because of the
Indian unrest in the San Diego Mission area. Later, on 1 November
1776, it was again founded by Father Serra.
Initially, Father Lasuen
came here in October of 1775 with eleven soldiers to create a
mission between the San Diego Mission and the San Gabriel Mission.
Father Lasuen dedicated the ground as local Indians watched and then
helped to haul lumber for the buildings to be erected. Only eight
days later, great troubles occurred at the San Diego mission with
the local tribes. The small party quickly buried the bells and left
immediately for the safety of the San Diego Mission, rapidly ending
the San Juan Capistrano Mission's first opening. About a year later,
Father Serra led an expedition to the site and again dedicated the
land for the church after exhuming the mission bells. The date was 1
November 1776. The Capistrano mission did well from the beginning.
The next year the first small church was built, continuing to be
used in current days. It is called the "Serra Chapel," and
is said to be the oldest church in California. It is also the only
building still standing where Father Serra performed Mass. These
first buildings were made of the common building material of the
day, the adobe brick. The second founding of the mission was
extremely successful from its inception. The local Indians, the
Juaneno, were friendly and flocked to the mission for their
education in many areas. It became a center of agriculture,
education, religion and more. The bells hung in a large nearby tree
for about 15 years until the bell tower was completed in 1791.
The well-known and
photographed Great Stone Church was started in 1796. It wasn't
completed until 1806. It was felled by an earthquake in 1812 when 40
were killed. The church was not rebuilt. Instead they moved back
into the small adobe chapel known as the Father Serra Chapel.
In 1824, a new Mexican
governor arrived, Governor Echeandia. He told the Indians they
didn't need to obey the Fathers. Order began to break down quickly.
Then, Governor Figueroa created a pueblo at Capistrano, the mission
activity virtually ended.
In 1834 when Mexico
declared its independence from Spain, it declared the end to the
California mission system and the missions were secularlized,
including San Juan Capistrano. During the early 1840s, there was not
a priest left at the mission. The mission was sold 8n 1845 to Don
Juan Forster, the governors brother-in-law. The family lived at the
mission for 20 years. 1863 saw the return of the missions to the
Catholic Church, but Capistrano did not have a priest there until
1866 when Father Jose Mut came. At that time, he found the mission
in utter ruin. The small chapel was still standing only because it
had been used to store hay. The Father tried, but was not able to do
any real restoration or even upkeep on the mission.
During the time period of
1890-1930, many artists came to the mission to photograph, paint and
draw the relic. In 1910, Father St. John O'Sullivan, the pastor
here, was dying from tuberculosis. He often compared the ruined
mission to his own ruined body. He wanted to restore the mission to
its former beauty and to memorialize the mission for the future. He
wanted to dedicate whatever time he had left on earth to the
preservation and restoration of his beloved mission. He invited
artists to come and capture the images he saw at the mission. The
impressionists of the time loved the mission atmosphere with its
lights and shadows and open airy feelings. Father O'Sullivan also
thrived here at the mission, living until 1933. His influence
brought many famous artists here to record the many faces of the
beautiful old mission. He worked hard, mostly by himself at first,
to restore the mission. He traded some old materials of the mission
for new items and piece by piece began the restoration process. By
1918, permission was given for the church there to become active
Today, the mission is
partially restored and there is a museum housed on the grounds.
Tours are available.
The mission is the only
one of the chain which is made of stone. It was designed by Isidoro
Aguilar, a stone mason from Culican, Mexico.
The golden altar in the
chapel today was not the original altar. Archbishop Cantwell of Los
Angeles gave it to the mission after receiving it from Spain in
1906. The ceiling of the church had to be raised to fit the altar.
Famous silent movie star,
Mary Pickford, was married in the Mission chapel.
1921 view of the
mission. The perimeter wall were built in 1917
A fountain in the
central courtyard built in the 1920's
The Sacred Garden
developed in 1920 at the mission
P.O. Box 697
Parish Office: 949-234-1360
Please call ahead for
hours of operation, tours, questions and admission costs or see
The chapel at the Mission
is the only place still standing in California where Father Serra
Many festivals are held
during the year at the mission. This
page has links to the festivals and other events.
The mission is well-known
for its St
Joseph's Day Celebrationl and the Return of the Swallows on
March 19th. Here is more
information on the events.
The official observance is always
on 19 March each year, but the festival is held on different days
each year, always on or near the 19th.
This is the only mission
to be founded twice
San Juan Capistrano Mission official
California State Historic
page for the mission
Once you are finished
looking at these links, please use your back button to return to the
Capistrano Mission Footsteps of History page and continue your
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This page was
last updated on 28 June 2012 at 10:04 pm
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