There are 21 Spanish
missions in California begun by the Catholic Friars of the Franciscan Order. They
began the missions in 1769 and continued until the early 1830s. The idea was to spread
the Christian faith among the local Native American population.
Franciscans introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, horses, cattle
and ranching to this area of the wilderness. Over time, there was a mixed result
this Spanish colonization of the native peoples and the government of Mexico
shut down the missions.
California missions are among the state's oldest
structures. San Juan Bautista (Saint John the Baptist) is the 15th mission built
and is the largest founded in what is now present-day California. It was established on June 24, 1797.
Map of the California missions
San Juan's population grew quickly and by the
early 1800s there were over 1,000 Native Americans living at the mission. Ranching and farming were the main activities.
Map of San Juan with the
location of the mission
The mission of San Juan is 90+ miles
southeast of San Francisco and is located on the main
plaza in the town that developed all around the mission. Visiting this site offers the best opportunity to
see and appreciate what California looked like 160 years ago.
Looking through the archway across the
main plaza to the barracks made for the soldiers
During the California Gold
Rush, the town of San Juan Bautista grew and expanded rapidly. Today it is still
a thriving community. Buildings were
constructed around the plaza in front of the mission including barracks for
soldiers (now the Plaza Hotel) and a nunnery. These buildings have been restored
to their original form.
The Ohlone and the Yokut
Natives were brought to live at the mission and were baptized into Christianity. San Juan Bautista
has served mass daily since 1797 and is today the parish church of the Diocese
of Monterey, California.
Archways on the side of the Church
From this view, the cemetery is straight to the back, the
original grassy plaza is to the right, and the gift shop is through one of the doors
on the left.
In the 1840s this gift shop was a storeroom
and became the temporary
home for the Breen family who were survivors of the Donner Party tragedy. Their
family bible is still kept on the premises.
Small restored adobe chapel
Once the church was built, this little chapel
was no longer needed for Sunday services, and became another storage room, a
meeting room, even a basketball court. Restoring the chapel to its original
state required stripping layers of whitewash to reveal the designs and painting
underneath. These designs were reproduced and the chapel was
reconstructed back to its original appearance.
Outside entrance to the chapel from the
There was a cat door carved into
this blue side door of the chapel which allowed cats complete access to catch
mice. These mice were a serious concern and ate much of the harvest during the
Notice how thick the walls are around the
View of the gardens
The garden area was the center of activity
and the friars taught the natives skills such as carpentry, tanning, weaving and
Another look at the garden area in the
direction of the gift shop
At this period of time, the kitchen was preparing three
meals a day for over 1,000 people. Fifty some head of cattle were slaughtered weekly
in order to feed this mission community.
The present church
It was in June of 1803 that the cornerstone
was laid for this church and with its three aisles, it became the widest of all
the mission churches in California.
The floor tile was completed in 1817. If you
look closely while visiting the mission, you can see animal foot prints in the
tiles themselves. These tiles were dried outside in the sun, and animals simply
walked across them, leaving their footprints behind.
The reredos (which holds the six
statues behind the altar) were painted by an American sailor who jumped ship in Monterey.
He painted these in exchange for his room and board at the mission.
A closer look at the altar and the reredos
Much of the mission property was seized by
the Mexican government in 1835 and this government secularized the church at
that time. It wasn't until 1895 that the present mission buildings and
surrounding 55 acres was given back to the Church by Federal decree of the U.S.
These reredos and the saint statues
themselves are mostly in their original state.
Votive candles to the sides of the altar
The faithful will often light votive candles
as a continuous prayer for a loved on or for a troubled situation. Sometimes
they can be in thanksgiving for a prayer having been answered.
Memory plaque in the floor of the church
This is a memory plaque laid into the floor
of the church. Maria Antonia Castro initially married Juan
Miguel Anzar who was the brother of one of the priests who served at the Mission
of San Juan Bautista. When he died, Maria married Frederick A. McDougall who was
a doctor from Scotland. She died at 28 years of age leaving her children and her
husband as heirs to a couple of nearby ranchos.
The cemetery is located on the north side of
the church and contains the remains of 4,000 Christian Native Americans and
Part of the original El Camino Real is able
to be seen just beyond the walls of this cemetery. The road is situated atop an
escarpment of the San Andreas fault, and this fault runs along the base of the
hill below this cemetery. In the San Francisco violent earthquake of 1906, the
side walls of the church collapsed. They were restored in 1976.
If you would like to visit this mission for
yourself, you can find information here.
Address is 406 Second Street, San Juan Bautista, California, 95045. Tele: 1.
831. 623. 2127. There is no charge to see the mission, but a donation is
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