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The Mission of
San Juan Capistrano

Visit The Official Mission San Juan Capistrano Site

Tour of Mallorca
- Visit the birthplace of Fr. Junipera Serra

Mission Links of Interest SJC.net Featured Pages
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Preserving the past...

Orange County's oldest community

By Gerald J. Miller

San Juan Capistrano is Orange County's oldest community. It's the birthplace of Orange County and home to its oldest traditions. It has its swallows, history, legends, storybook heroes, and beautiful archeological monuments. Most of that history is wrapped up and epitomized by our living historic landmarks, the most beautiful and best known of the California missions, old Mission San Juan Capistrano-our mission! It belongs to all of us. It's our inheritance.

 

Certainly, some would rather be in Philadelphia with its Liberty Bell, thinking of Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and others signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. But at the same time, Padre Junipero Serra was founding our mission at San Juan Capistrano on the sunny side of our American continent.

He was bringing together European and indigenous Indian cultures which formed the beginning of

California's rich multi-cultural heritage. That bi-cultural partnership not only built a large adobe mission, but constructed a stone church which was 180 feet long, five stories high at the sanctuary and was topped with seven stone domes and a bell tower. It was the largest stone structure west of the Mississippi. The stone church started as a vision in 1797. Spanish padres and the proud Juaneno Mission Indians wanted to build the most magnificent structure among all the missions. They wanted an edifice so majestic and so beautiful that even God would be impressed. History tells us they succeeded. The Great Stone Church, as it came to be called, was a man-made, heaven inspired masterpiece.

It shattered and collapsed in a tremendous earthquake in 1812. Forty Juanenos attending service died in the disaster. They are there still, buried in a little cemetery behind the church. Shattered dreams, shattered visions, but the majestic ruins still stand at the corner of the mission in silent testament to those dreams and the courage of those bygone people who dared to dream them.

 

A few years thereafter, in 1821, time ran out for California's old Spanish missions. A new government took over and California became a part of Mexico. The Mexican governors privatized the missions, with Mission San Juan Capistrano being sold to Don Juan Forster. Most missions were stripped of their tiles and wood beams to build houses and the unprotected adobe walls melted away in the rains fo time. Most of the original missions no longer existed. Mission San Juan fared a little better because Don Juan Forster actually lived in part of the mission and kept his trade goods stored in Serra Chapel. Thus, the occupied part of the adobe mission was protected from the elements; but the north and west wings melted away, leaving the brick arches standing alone like naked manneuins in the window of a store.

A few times in the mission's history-1895, under Los Angeles Times editor Charles Lummis, and the Landmarks Club (1910-1930), under the great restorer, Msgr. St. John O'Sullivan-attempts were made to preserve the mission's picturesque ruins. In the last five years, under the leadership of Msgr. Paul Martin, $3 million was borrowed to do seismic safety work as an alternative to closing the mission down because it didn't meet state mandated codes. Living history programs, art exhibitions, concerts and special event programs were intstituted at the mission, with all proceeds going to a newly created preservation fund.

Today, as a result of those and other fund raising activities, the $3 million debt has been repaid for the seismic work on the adobe buildings, $1.8 million has been raised and spent to piece together the crumbling ruins of the Great Stone Church, and a grant in-kind from the builders' Industry Association will enable the preserving of the 1791 Spanish soldiers' barracks. Countless volunteers have helped resurface the barrack's walls with low-tech "mudslinging", but now seismic stabilization and a new tile roof will preserve that important edifice for future generations.

Preserving our inheritance has taken a lot of work and a lot of money from many people and sources. At this point, it's all been private source donations-the hard way. The mission has not received financing from any church, nor any governmental agency. Because the importance of the mission transcends this region to national and international recognition, efforts are being made to get public funds to supplement the private funds for preservation.

There is still much preservation work (about $5 million worth) to be done before we can pass our historic treasure on to future generations.

A newspaper editorial recently summed up the preservation of the mission most eloquently: "The Mission is more than a relic of the past. It remains a haven of rest amid the bustle of 20th century California, a source of social ballast for the present and future, whispering of human aspirations that rise beyond the humdrum of our busy lives." Maybe it's that whispering that the swallows hear, returning to the mission spring after spring.

Thanks to the help of the preservationists, the whispers will keep echoing for centuries to come.

 

 
   

 

Mission Links of Interest

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano, the Birthplace of Orange County, was founded more than two hundred years ago. Today it is a monument to California' multi-cultural history, embracing its Native American, Spanish, Mexican and European heritage.

MyMission.org
A virtual Museum of our 21 California missions. This non-profit, educational site includeds interviews with experts, contests, mission adoptions, donations and gifts for sale.

School Report Information
Featured on their site, Mission San Juan Capistrano offers educational packets for school projects. Students choose the packet that best suits his / her needs.

California Mission Internet Trail - Mission San Juan Capistrano
This site was awarded a Times Pick by the Los Angeles Times on September 9, 1996. It has also been included in the Blue Web'n Learning Applications Library of best instructional lessons, activities, projects, resources, references, and tools on the Web.

California Missions Interactive
On May 4th, 1995 two bicyclists embarked on a self-contained tour of twelve of the California missions. The idea of this tour was to contrast travels in the early 1800s with a mod ern day journey between the missions.

California Mission Studies Association
For the Study and Preservation of the California Missions, Presidios, Pueblos, and Ranchos and Their Native American, Hispanic, and Early American Past.

Living History Society
The Living History Society of Mission San Juan Capistrano invites you to visit with them from 11:00 AM until 3:00 PM on the 2nd Saturday of each month and on various other colorful events during the year when persons of the past are portrayed in authentic costume. Learn customs and insights into how it was to live in the past.

Ortega Hwy and El Camino Real
(949) 234-1300

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SJC.net Featured Pages

Story of the Swallows
The Story of San Juan Capistrano's Mission Swallows - their annual flight from Goya, Argentina to San Juan Capistrano.

The Swallows of Goya
Story of the Swallows of Goya as told by Enrique Bermudez Correspondent in Argentina Pedro Iribarren

History and the Mystery
A collection of Stories of Old stories of the mission and history of San Juan Capistrano

Listen to the song
Mission by the Sea

from the Capistrano CD :

MP3 version or Listen to real audio :
high band | 56k | 28.8k

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Enjoy our Streaming Videos:

 

Mission by the Sea Video
Real Windows
DialUp Broadband DialUp Broadband
The Great Stone Church
Real Windows
DialUp Broadband DialUp Broadband
Mission Gardens
Real Windows
DialUp Broadband DialUp Broadband
Swallows of Capistrano
Real Windows
DialUp Broadband DialUp Broadband

All Images Are Property of www.sanjuancapistrano.net and © 1998 Purpose Media

All Rights Reserved WorldWide Photo Credits: Steve Estrada

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