Two king-size attractions await those who visit Oceanside, CA, the first being Oceanside Pier.
Built in 1888, it is the longest wooden pier on the western U.S. coastline, ~1950 feet in length. Although grand in stature, it will not be the focal point of this post.
Second, and the main topic, is Mission San Luis Rey de Francia (the Mission of Saint Louis, King of France). Founded by Franciscan Fermín Lasuén in June, 1798, it was nicknamed “King of the Missions”, as it was the largest of the California missions, covering 6 acres at its most prosperous time.
At its peak you can imagine the grandeur of this mission, stark white façade against an azure sky. Incorporate into this image lush gardens and thousands of head of cattle and sheep being tended by the Luiseño Indians and you can see why it was dubbed “the king”.
Friar Antonio Peyri was put in charge of the mission and became solely responsible for the design and building of the site. He was much beloved by the 2800 Luiseño Indians who lived within the mission boundaries and it is said that after 33 years of service, upon his retirement, two of the Luiseños left their native land and returned with him to Spain.
Church construction began in 1811 and was completed by 1815. It was a showpiece due to its unique styling and is only one of two mission churches whose design is cruciform.
The sense of reverence felt when you enter the chapel is palpable. Many of the original artifacts still exist today, the central crucifix from Nicaragua, the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe, 14 Stations of the Cross, and the hand-hammered baptismal font, to name a few.
The Quadrangle (4-sided patio) houses the historic pepper tree planted by Father Peyri. The seeds for this tree were brought to the mission by a sailor from Peru in 1830. Now dubbed the “California Pepper Tree”, it sports creamy white flowers in the summer and dark pink peppery berries in the fall. We grew several of these trees on a former property of ours in Phoenix and it is interesting to know its origins.
The lavanderia (laundry) was particularly interesting to us, as the grounds here reminded us of some of the archaeological sites we explored while in Mexico. This was the area where the residents went to bathe and wash their clothes. The water used for these tasks was siphoned in from the San Luis Rey River via aqueducts into a series of stone and tile pools. It was considered a comprehensive water conservation system, even by today’s standards.
Excavation work here continues today with plans for future archaeological digs. Two gargoyle fountains, a part of the lavanderia, were unearthed in a nearby swamp.
Today Mission San Luis Rey is a working mission, watched over by her parishioners. The historic church faces closure if fundraising attempts for a state-mandated seismic retrofit are not successful. If would be sad indeed if this slice of California’s cultural heritage is lost.
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