California Missions

The California missions figure among the most important historical and architectural attractions that can be found in the entire United States. Stately adobe complexes, they were established by Spanish Catholics of the Franciscan Order between the years of 1769 and 1823. That makes them some of the oldest surviving structures in California. In terms of architecture, the California Missions with their distinctive Spanish styles have influenced architecture in California and beyond ever since they were established. To this day, you will notice Spanish-style architectural elements in most California cities and towns.

History

History
History

It is hard to overstress the historical significance of the Spanish Missions in California. These religious and military complexes are direct relics from the first major European colonization attempt in the Pacific Coast region, and they helped convert a mostly wild and untamed region into a verifiable agricultural frontier. In addition to being civilization outposts and forts, the California Missions were education center of sorts where the Spanish hoped that they could convert Native Americans into Catholics and Spanish colonial citizens. As was true of most Spanish attempts to convert natives throughout the Americas, the end result wasn’t a very positive one for those whom they were trying to convert. The role as Spanish conversion centers started to come to an end for the California Missions in the early 1820s. Both the Alta California and Baja California provinces became part of the new independent nation of Mexico in 1822. Not long thereafter, the majority of the 21 Spanish Missions in California were sold to private interests. Eventually, California became part of the United States, and most of the missions subsequently retained their roles as Catholic institutions. These days, in addition to serving as active Catholic parishes, some are also popular community event venues and highly-visited historic monuments.

Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara
Mission Santa Barbara

Mission Santa Barbara, or the Santa Barbara Mission, as it is also known, was the tenth Spanish Mission to be established in California. Founded in 1786, it distinguishes itself by being the only mission in the state to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since it was founded. Today, its role is that of a parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It also serves as a museum and has a gift shop. The Mission Santa Barbara, as you may have expected, is the namesake of both the city of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County. It overlooks the city from its hilltop perch and also offers savory ocean views. The address is 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara.

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano

One of the other more renowned Spanish Missions in California is the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Found in southern Orange County, it is the seventh of the 21 California coastal missions and is commonly referred to as the Birthplace of Orange County. It was founded more than 200 years ago and is a true monument to the state’s multi-cultural history. The chapel at the mission, known as Serra’s Chapel, is actually the oldest building in California still in use. It dates back to 1782. Also particularly worthy of note is the fact that California’s first vineyard was located on the Mission San Juan Capistrano grounds. Unfortunately, the Great Stone Church that also graced these grounds collapsed in 1812 due to an earthquake and lies in ruins. Its lofty reputation lingers, however. It is widely considered to be the most pretentious and important building of the entire Mission period. The San Juan Capistrano Mission is situated along the Ortega Highway at Camino Capistrano in the namesake city of San Juan Capistrano.

Mission Trail

Mission Trail
Mission Trail

The California Mission Trail is a name that is often used to refer to the 600-mile chain of missions that can be found in the state. It is largely associated with the Camino Real, which was a Spanish trail/road that included not only linked mission stops, but also presidios and pueblos. The Mission Trail stretches from the Mission San Diego de Alcala in San Diego to the Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. It is interesting to note that the 21 California missions can be found approximately 30 miles apart as you move along the chain. This was done intentionally with the purpose of facilitating travel between the missions. From one mission to another, it took about one day to travel by way of horseback and approximately three days on foot. Legend has it that the padres from the various missions sprinkled mustard seeds along the trail so that the resulting yellow flowers could provide a means of guidance for travelers.

California Missions Map

California Missions Map
California Missions Map

Consult a map of the Spanish Missions in California, and you will notice that all of them are found near the coast. This has a lot to do with the fact that Spanish Californians preferred the coast when it came to establishing their settlements. These days, several modern roadways cover different parts of the historic California Mission Trail. Examples of such roadways include Interstate 5, U.S. Route 101 and State Route 82. This helps to make for easy access to the various mission settlements.

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