Hello everyone! For the second mission in this series, I’m going to share my trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano, about 60 miles south of Los Angeles. Located in 26801 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, CA., this mission is the 7th mission built by the Spaniards, and 19th mission geographically from the north.
The mission was founded in November 01, 1776. It will celebrate its 240th year in Nov 1, 2016. It was named after Italian saint, St. Giovanni da Capistrano. San Juan Capistrano is also home to the oldest building in California still being used today – Father Serra’s Church built in 1782. Serra established 9 missions and The goal of the mission was to be self-sufficient, that is why livelihood was taught. Farming was the main industry, and animals were raised as well.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is known all over the world for the legend of the return of the Cliff Swallows, told by Father O’Sullivan from the 1920s. Every year, the mission celebrates the legend on Swallows Day on March 19th.
Here is an excerpt of the story of the Cliff Swallows from Chapter 10 of Capistrano Nights: Tales of a Mission Town.
“One day several years ago,” He said (Father O’Sullvian), “I was passing the new hotel at the west side of the town plaza, and there was the proprietor out with a long pole smashing the swallows’ nest that were under the eaves. The poor birds were in a terrible panic, darting hither and thither flying and screaming about their demolished homes.
“What in the world are you doing,” I asked.
“Why,” said he, “these dirty birds are a nuisance, and I am getting rid of them.”
“But where can they go?” I continued.
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” He replied slashing away with his pole, “but they’ve no business here, destroying my property.”
“Then come on swallows,” I cried, “I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission, there is room enough there for all.”
“Sure enough they all took me at my word, and the very next morning they were busy building under the newly built sacristy of Father Serra’s church.
Bells were crucial to everyday life at the mission. They signal meal times, start of work and religious services, births, funerals, etc. Fun fact: These four bells were all named. Biggest to smallest: San Vicente, San Juan, San Antonio, San Rafael. Not everyone can ring the bells at the mission. Only a privileged and chosen few were assigned this task. On this bell wall, the two smaller ones are still the original ones used from the past. The two larger bells are replicas of the original bells. The two bells fell and cracked when it fell from the 1812 earthquake.
These two large bells hanging low are the original of the large bells. Since its restoration after the earthquake damage, neither gave out clear tones. They currently sit at the footprint of the ruined bell tower.
Pictured is an area inside Serra’s Chapel, also known as Father Serra’s Church. This chapel is the only existing structure to date where it has been documented that Father Serra celebrated mass.
The mission desperately needed a bigger church for everyone that lived at the mission. For ten years, they used the adobe chapel and it no longer served the purpose as there was not enough space. It took nine years to complete the Great Stone Church. But sadly, only six short years after its completion, the tragic earthquake on December 08, 1812 fell to shambles, killing 40 people that attended mass that tragic day. The church was never rebuilt, the priests made no attempt at rebuilding and the ruins from then on served as a symbol to remember the loss of their community.
Each mission has their own rich history, their own personality, and that makes me certain that as I go through visiting each one of them, I know that it will really be a learning and enjoyable experience. As much as I enjoy capturing the beautiful scenery of the missions, I also enjoy the reading and the research that I do, because I learn more about their rich history and all the fun facts in between. Go visit a California Mission today and tell us about it!
-Jaja (IG: @theforevertourist)