Top Banner
Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Juan Bautista was founded by Father Lasuen on June 24, 1797. Father Lasuen named the Mission after Saint John the Baptist. It was the 15th mission to be founded and was meant to be an overnight stop for those traveling between Mission San Carlos to the south and Mission Santa Clara to the north.
For Parents Button  
Mission History Button   Location and Geography
Sources Button   Father Lasuen wanted a Mission that would close the gap between Mission San Carlos and Mission Santa Clara. It was important for travelers to have a safe place to stay while on the road between Missions. The site was chosen by a Spanish soldier, Hermenegildo Sal and Father Antonio Danti. The site was several miles inland from the ocean but had good soil for farming. What the Father Danti and Senor Sal didn’t know was that the site was on the San Andreas Fault.
Bibliography History Button  
    The Native Americans
    The main tribes in the area around Mission San Juan Bautista were the Mutsun and the Yokut. The Mission was built near the Mutsun village of Popeloutchom. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Chumash were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families

The Mission was attacked several times and many Natives didn’t like the structure of Mission life and chose to run away and go back to their villages. Even with those problems the Mission records show that by 1800 there were over 500 neophytes at the Mission and by 1821 there were 1248 neophytes living at Mission San Juan Bautista.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They would encourage local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. The first buildings would be built of wood poles and brush. Eventually the buildings would be replaced by larger adobe brick or stone buildings. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didn’t think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes weren’t perfect squares because the Fathers didn’t have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.

Mission San Juan Bautista grew quickly. The adobe chapel was finished within six months. In 1800 the Mission suffered through a series of earthquake swarms that lasted for weeks. In June 1803 a cornerstone was placed for a new, larger church that was finished nine years later on June 23, 1812. The Mission had one of the largest churches built in the Mission chain with 3 aisles that could hold 1000 people. It is the only Church of its type in the Mission chain.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.

Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules.

Mission San Juan Bautista grew wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, and olives. The olives were used to make olive oil. The Mission traded the olive oil for cloth, farm tools, and other things that they could not easily make.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    The Mission was secularized in 1834 and by 1840 very little of the land was left. Much of it had been sold and the orchards had been destroyed by floods and attacks from Mutsun Natives. Governor Manuel Micheltorena tried to return the lands to the Church in the 1840s, but he couldn’t stand up to the powerful land owners that wanted the Mission’s lands. He resigned in February 1845 and was replaced by Governor Pio Pico. Governor Pico sold what was left of the Mission at a secret auction. President James Buchanan seized the land and on November 19, 1859 returned the Mission and 55 acres to the Catholic Church.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    The Mission is on the San Andreas Fault and suffered damage during the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. The side walls of the Mission Church fell during the quake and were restored in 1976. The Mission has never been without a priest and continues as an active Parish today.
    How to Reference this Page
    To Reference or Cite this page you will need 5 items of information:

  • The Author’s Name: Tricia Weber
  • The Title of the Page: (Look at the banner at the top of the page.)
  • The Date the Page was Last Updated: August 18, 2006
  • The URL(Web Address) of the Page: (Look in the Address Bar at the top of the page.)
  • The Date you Visited the Page: Use today’s date.
If you need more help check out the How to Cite Sources page.