The 7th California Mission

Father Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Juan Capistrano on November 1st, 1776. It was the seventh of California’s 21 missions, and it became known as the Jewel mission.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, circa 1915

Mission San Juan Capistrano, circa 1915 Courtesy of the Orange County Archives. Coloration by Cynthia Kirkeby

The Naming of Mission San Juan Capistrano

Father Serra named the mission for the theologian St. John of Capistrano, Italy. It holds the distinction of being the only mission in California that was founded twice. It was first founded on October 30, 1775. Indians attacked the neighboring Mission San Diego de Alcala eight days later. So, Father Lausan stopped his work on San Juan Capistrano, buried the mission’s bells, and left to assist the men at San Diego. One year later, Father Serra returned to dig up the bells and officially found the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, Native Americans, and How The MIssion Supported Itself

The mission was lucky to have local Indians. From the beginning, they were willing to participate in the settlement’s success. They established trade in leather tanning, sewing, weaving, spinning, and woodcarving. Like many other California missions, the Mission San Juan Capistrano supported itself by growing crops of wheat and corn. They also raised herds of horses and cattle, and cultivated grapes in a vineyard. The mission’s resources helped support the settlers in the area, the Natives, and visitors. Much of its economic success was directly linked to the efforts of the Native inhabitants.

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Father Serra’s Chapel

The adobe chapel at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, known as Father Serra’s Chapel at Father Serra’s Church, is now one of the oldest buildings standing in California. The mission attempted to replace the small chapel with what was to become the largest church in the Alta California chain. After the church’s completion, however, an earthquake damaged it beyond repair. Thus Father Serra’s Chapel became the mission’s official site of worship, and remains so to this day.