The 5th California Mission

Father Serra, first Father-Presidente of the Alta California Mission Chain, founded the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa on September 1st, 1772. It was the fifth of California’s 21 missions, and it is located in present day San Luis Obispo.

Mission-San-Luis-Obispo, photo courtesy of Bryce Edwards

The Founding Of Mission San Luis Obispo

Father Serra named the mission for Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, France. Chumash Indians, the people native to San Luis Obispo, built the original church from tree branches and poles. Although the buildings were temporary, they housed soldier barracks, Indian homes, and an infirmary. Eventually, the church was made permanent with architecture reminiscent of New Englans meeting houses.

Mission San Luis Obispo’s Sale to Mexico

The San Luis Obispo mission was original established, as all California missions were, to convert local Indians into Westernized Christians. When the missions were less successful that initially anticipated, the Church severed their funding. Left destitute, the mission was sold to the Mexican government and served as a courthouse, jail, etc.

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How Did Mission San Luis Obispo Support Itself

Like most California missions, the Mission Santa Luis Obispo de Tolosa supported itself and the Native inhabitants of the area by growing crops of wheat and corn. They also raised herds of horses and cattle, and cultivated grapes in a vineyard. Despite a desperate lack of crops and food in general, the mission did have a plentiful supply of bear meat. Indians hunted this meat with guns borrowed from the Spanish soldiers, and they were so successful that the mission actually supplied the other missions in the Alta California chain with bear.

Why Do California Missions Have Red Tile Roofs

In 1776, a group of angry Native Americans attacked the mission. They shot flaming arrows into the thatched roof, effectually burning the mission building to the ground. (This was actually the third time that part of the mission had burned down.) The missionaries determined that they needed a roof more resistant to Indian attack, and the padres developed the red tiled roof. This roofing material became a trademark of the Alta California mission chain.

The Location of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

When the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was first established, it sat one mile from a village so tiny it did not violate the rule requiring all missions to be at least seven miles from the nearest town. That town has since then grown to be the thriving city of San Luis Obispo, California.