21 missions exist on California’s El Camino Real (Royal Road). The missions, and the road connecting them, span a distance of 600 miles. Both were established by the Spanish as they colonized what would later become California. Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting one of these missions.
Mission San Luis Rey
Mission San Luis Rey is the second mission along el camino real. However, it was actually the third to last mission completed. The mission was founded in 1798 by the Franciscan padre, Fermín Francisco de Lasuén.
The mission was named for St. Louis IX, King of France. Completed in 1815, the mission’s church is National Historic Landmark. It is the largest of all the mission churches. It is also unique for having a wooden dome.
The quadrangle behind the mission is home to a beautiful garden. The garden features several varieties of roses as well as the nation’s oldest pepper tree. We spotted tiny rabbits, lizards and ground squirrels roaming the grounds.
The mission’s history is divided into five distinct phases:
Luiseño Indian: The Luiseño were the original occupants of the area. Their villages dotted the coastline and riverbanks of present day California.
Spanish Mission: Spain established missions throughout California as an easy way to defend the claim on their colonies. Establishing missions only required a small band of friars. These religious leaders would spread Spanish culture, language and religion to the indigenous people. This prevented other nations from establishing a foothold in Spanish territories.
Mexican Secularization: In 1821, Mexico (which included present day California) won it’s independence from Spain. Under Mexico’s rule the missions were given 10 years to complete their instruction of the local tribes. After this time the mission’s land and administration was meant to be handed over to the remaining Luiseño people. In most cases however, the Luiseño were left with nothing.
American Military: US troops occupied the mission during the Mexican American War. The occupation began in 1847. Though the war ended in 1848, troops remained on site until 1857. During this time Mexico ceded more than 500,000 square miles to the United States including present dayNew Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, and western Colorado.
Twentieth Century Restoration: In 1865 President Abraham Lincoln returned control of San Luis Rey to the Catholic Church. However, the mission remained empty for many years falling into a state of disrepair. At the turn of the century a group of friars under the leadership of Fr. Joseph Jeremiah O’Keefe began restoration efforts. The efforts continue today.
San Luis Rey is open:
Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm