Let’s explore one of the most well-known Spanish missions in California: Mission San Juan Capistrano.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is known as the “Jewel of the California Missions.” Founded in 1776 in present day Orange County, this mission was the seventh of 21 missions built up and down the state of California. Like the other missions, Mission San Juan Capistrano was established to expand the territorial boundaries of Spanish rule and to spread Catholicism to the native peoples of California and Mexico, thus transforming the indigenous into self-sufficient subjects of the Spanish empire.
While some native peoples peacefully converted and completely changed their ways of living, others were reluctant, and battles ensued. Those that converted to Christianity were required to change their culture, language, religion, work, clothing, and food. Many Native Americans suffered at the hands of the Spaniards as slaves. Many lost their land and their indigenous ways of life and survival. Many others succumbed to the European diseases the Spanish brought to the Americas.
Mission San Juan Capistrano was a bustling hub of agriculture, education, and religion until the end of 1812, when an earthquake caused the Great Stone Church to collapse and 42 churchgoers perished. Then in 1821, Mexico gained its independence from Spain, ushering in an era of Mexican control over the missions. California became an official state of the United States in 1850, the mission was returned to the Roman Catholic Church in 1865, and official restoration efforts began in 1910. Today, the mission is visited by nearly half a million visitors per year, a good number of which are school children on field trips.
Another fascinating thing about this mission is the annual migration of swallows to San Juan Capistrano. Every spring, they arrive from Argentina, which is nearly 6000 miles away! The birds make mud nests in the eaves of the mission buildings, as well as on other buildings in town. Starting in October, they migrate back to their warmer South American home for the winter months.
Back in 2016, my husband and I took our then five-year-old daughter to the mission for a family trip. The gardens were quite lovely, as were the remaining buildings. It’s interesting to note that my daughter chose to do her 4th grade mission project just this last school year on this mission. Below is the (artistic) interpretation she created for her project.
As always, thanks for stopping by. ❤