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The California Missions

San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Seventh mission
Founded 30 October 1775
by Father Fermin Lasuen
Re-Founded 1 November1776
by Fr. Junipero Serra.

The Mission is a registered Historic Landmark
and designated a National Historical Treasure
California State Historic Landmark Number 200
"The 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 great beauty.
Also known as the Mission of the Swallow because of the return of the swallows each year.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is located at the Corner of Ortega Highway & Camino Capistrano in Orange County in Southern California.
Take Interstate 5 to Ortega Highway, then go west one block to the entrance on the right

The 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 again.
Today, the mission is partially restored and there is a museum housed on the grounds. Tours are available.
Mission Trivia:
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

Contact the Mission:

Mailing address:
P.O. Box 697
Phone: 949-234-1300
Parish Office: 949-234-1360
Please call ahead for hours of operation, tours, questions and admission costs or see the website.
Mission Trivia:
The chapel at the Mission is the only place still standing in California where Father Serra said mass
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 19
Information: 949-234-1300 x322
This is the only mission to be founded twice
Mission Links:

The San Juan Capistrano Mission official site
California State Historic Landmark #200
A history 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 journey.

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This page was last updated on 28 June 2012 at 10:04 pm
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