There hasn’t been much sun in sunny So Cal lately but yesterday the clouds parted for a time (a brief respite between rainstorms) so we grabbed our jackets and headed out. I had wanted to visit another of the California missions, one I had not been to in roughly 30 years, the Jewel of the Missions, Mission San Juan Capistrano. Hubby had never been so I was anxious for him to see this magnificent little sliver of California history.
This jewel was consecrated on October 30, 1775 by Father Fermín Lasuén but mere weeks later was abandoned as a revolt in San Diego took soldiers and padres away and it wasn’t until All Saints’ Day, November 1, 1776, that Father Junipero Serra re-founded the Mission. This was the 7th of the 21 California missions, and like the previous six, San Juan Capistrano was established to expand Spain’s territory boundaries and spread Christianity to the Native Americans.
Despite the dramatic changes that Christianity brought to the Native Americans, the Mission grew to a population of over 1000 by 1806 and The Great Stone Church had been completed, a stunning piece of architecture built in the classical Greco-Roman styling. Many modern-day architects have dubbed this the “American Acropolis”.
Bells were vitally important to the daily life of all the missions, being rung at mealtimes, for religious services, funerals, births, etc. and the Great Stone Church had a massive 120-foot bell tower, which could be seen and heard for more than 10 miles. On the morning of December 8, 1812, tragedy struck when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook the earth, completely destroying the bell tower and the main body of the church. Forty worshipers who were attending mass at the time, along with two boys who had been ringing the bells, lost their lives as they were buried under the rubble. Thus began the decline of Mission San Juan Capistrano.
The four bells from the bell tower were salvaged from the wreckage and today stand in a brick companario (bell wall). The Great Stone Church has never been reconstructed as no one at that time had the construction expertise needed for such a daunting task. In 2002 the renown World Monuments Fund put “The Great Stone Church” on its List of 100 Most Endangered Sites. A series of retrofits was completed on the church in 2004 at great cost.
By 1821 Mexico won its independence from Spain and California became a Mexican territory. Within 12 years the Mexican government ended the mission system and the property was sold off to wealthy Californians. The Mission itself became a private ranch.
A few years later the United States won the Mexican-American War and Mission San Juan Capistrano saw yet another change as the parishioners wanted the mission lands returned to the church. President Abraham Lincoln responded to their pleas and in 1865 signed a proclamation returning the ownership of the Mission to the Roman Catholic Church.
Even with the rich history that swirls around the California missions, the “signature icon” of this particular site is the cliff swallows that migrate here every March, making their 6000 mile trek from Goya, Argentina, their winter home. The Great Stone Church has the dubious honor of housing these beautiful feathered creatures that were so loved by St. Francis. Each March 19th on St. Joseph’s Day, a celebration is held marking the return of the swallows.
Due to a loss of water and food sources with the spread of urbanization, fewer swallows return to the Mission annually, finding refuge closer to creeks. For those who do return, they can be seen building their mud nests in the church eaves and near the end of October they circle the Mission before bidding farewell, beginning their long journey back to South America.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is also home to the oldest building still in use in California, the Serra Chapel, built in 1782, where Father Serra was known to celebrate mass. Today some morning services are still held here but most religious observances are conducted at the Basilica next door to the Mission, built in 1986, and designed after the original stone church. Housing a striking 16-ton back altar carved in cedar and covered in gold leaf, it is reminiscent of 17th century Spanish and Mexican colonial altars.
Touring the magnificent landmark of Mission San Juan Capistrano can be done by way of a self-guided audio tour or docent-led. However you prefer to wander these sacred grounds, rest assured you will not be alone. More than 500,000 visitors come here annually to pay their respects to the “Jewel of the Missions”.
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59 thoughts on “Jewel of the Missions ~ Mission San Juan Capistrano, CA”
I’m glad you were able to go to this beautiful mission. I haven’t been there since all this renstoration has been done, but it was always my favorite mission. I don’t think I had even heard about the restorations, so thank you for letting us know. Great pictures, too. You are in an area with several more missions I hope you will visit sometime.
We love the missions and have already visited several the last time we were here.
That’s a lot of info there 🙂
Thanks for sharing it with us LuAnn
My pleasure. 🙂
Beautiful my friend !Thanks for sharing it with us LuAnn
My pleasure Stefan. 🙂
Really a neat blog LuAnn. Gayl and I can almost get the feeling right now of being down there once again with your great article ;and photos. Hope things are going well with you and Terry. Have a great Christmas and New Year. Rog & Gayl
Thanks Roger and Gayl. Hope the two of you have a blessed holiday.
Ahhhhhh! I was here on our scheduled meet. I only decided then and there, going back from SD to home. I’m not very fond of Missions, to be honest. But San Juan Capristrano is worth mentioning.
Ahhhhhh! You beat me to it, LuAnn. Hehehehehe. Love the post. I can’t do the way you do.
Thanks Rommel. We were getting cabin fever so decided to get out between rainstorms. I was trying to do a rectangular gallery as I have done in the past and no matter how I tried, it just was not working. Sometimes I don’t know if it is me or Word Press.
Weee! I helped!
Yes LuAnn. You are now indebted to do the challenge. 😀 Else, I will hunt you down. i know where you live. Bwahahaha.
Yes, I guess you do! 🙂
Love the exteriors the most esp. the cross path with the Nativity scene at the end. I love the concept of the bells. The garden, of course. Lastly, Father Serra’s chapel is tight, dimly, but that just makes it a magnificent, atmospheric spiritual compact area.
Thanks. Now any thoughts on why my rectangular gallery like you posted recently did not work? I chose my photos, selected gallery, added the code words to my text box, made sure the box was ‘unclicked’ under Media Settings and still all I got were thumbnails. 😦
Settings – Media – Tiled Gallery
Thanks Rommel, it now works. Obviously I wasn’t getting the instructions – duh! Does this mean that I now have to participate in the challenge?! 🙂
Very interesting and beautiful post, certainly worth a visit. Thank you for showing it to us. Great pictures on the slide show, I do love the big nativity scene.
Thanks Ute. 🙂
I love visiting missions. The word ” jewel” sure is a great word to describe this mission. It is simply lovely.
When I visit a mission, I tried to put myself back when it first opened. I am sure there was a lot of excitement in the air. Thank you for sharing this beautiful place.
You’re welcome Marsha. We enjoyed visiting the missions around San Antonio when we were there.
What a beautiful place with so much history. Thanks for sharing LuAnn! 🙂
My pleasure. 🙂
Hi LuAnn, Love the Beautiful gallery you created. Great shots, some are so poetic, … You can put put the story, history, facts, thoughts, and photos into one fabulous post! I really admire you! I also enjoyed reading the post of the Missions in San Antonio you did.
Thanks Amy. We love to visit the Missions, such fascinating history.
My goodness; that’s a lot of visitors yearly…
Thank You for that lovely guided tour… I may never get the chance to see it ‘in person’, so I must tell you I enjoyed that very much…!
Wonderful images too, LuAnn… 🙂
Thanks Carolyn. It is a beautiful mission.
Great images (I have yet to try the gallery since WP changed things around)! The history lesson was very nice, too.
Thanks Gunta. I had a bit of a problem with the gallery but with a little assistance I got it taken care of.
I really enjoyed this post. Was nice to have some back history.
And – the pics are great!
Thank you, LuAn. Lovely pictures, especially of the cemetery monument, that offer calm strength.
Thank you! 🙂
Looking at your pictures made me think that i must have been there but could not remember well. Nevertheless thanks for the great history lessons and great pics. We had been rained on here as well in Cave Creek AZ but managed to socialize with Ingrid at LiveLaughRV.
I’m sure they needed rain as well. Glad to hear you met Ingrid. I would very much like to meet you both, as well as Ingrid someday.
Yes someday, our nomadic life will cross somewhere. Although we almost did in CA 395 but we were just too late and slow in catching up with you.
I am hopeful that we will meet someday.
Wonderful summer photos.
And this is the winter in Southern California. The photos may look like summer but the temps tell a different story. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by.
Beautiful. I have been wanting to get down to this mission. I believe I have pictures of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and oldest sister visiting here in the late 1940’s. Thanks for sharing!
I couldn’t believe it had been 30 years since I had last visited. Happy holidays to you and your family Nancy.
Same to you and yours!
What a fabulous mission. We’ve got to add that to our list of spots to visit while we’re here.
You could spend hours there.
Lovely photo gallery LuAnn. Stay dry and enjoy beautiful San Diego.
Will do. I heard you had some rain in Cave Creek recently.
Two days of rain at times heavy. Drying out and sunny. We really enjoy Cave Creek Reg Park and will stay here till Jan. 3. Then Lost Dutchman, Quartzite and end of Jan into Feb ??? Plans are in Jello!
Good way to be. 🙂
This is wonderful! (As always) the combination of your well written and informative narrative along with your gorgeous photo’s is just great LuAnn. I was there as a kid, just a year or two ago I think lol! Thank you, always a pleasure to read your posts, with much affection, Penny 🙂
Thanks Penny 🙂
Oh I LOVE the pop up image titles on these pictures. It really makes it come more alive to know exactly what you are looking at. Great job!!
Beautiful! That lone bench particularly! Am toying with the idea of Mexico for next year. If we do decide, you might find me lurking around your blog for tips 🙂
Thanks. I seem to gravitate towards photos of a solitary nature, like the lone bench. If you go to Mexico I would be happy to share anything we may know of the country.