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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Luis Rey was founded by Father Lasuen. It was the 18th Mission in the Chain and was named for Saint Louis IX, a French king from the 1200’s. The phrase San Luis, Rey de Francia is Spanish for “Saint Louis, King of France.” Although the site was chosen almost 30 years earlier by Father Juan Crespi, Father Lasuen dedicated the Mission on June 13, 1798. The Mission has been given the nickname of ‘King of the Missions.’
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Sources Button   Location and Geography
Bibliography History Button   The site for Mission San Luis Rey was chosen in 1769 by Father Juan Crespi. The location is in a valley 5 miles away from the ocean. The Mission became the largest in the chain with buildings that spread over 6 acres.

    The Native Americans
    The main tribe in the area around Mission San Buenaventura was the Chumash. The Chumash were one of the larger tribes in California. 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.

    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.

The Church was started in 1798 and finished in 1802. Other buildings went up quickly with the help of the Native workers. By 1804 all of the buildings in the quadrangle were finished. The Mission grew and a larger church was ordered to be built. The second church was finished in 1815 and held 1000 people.

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.

The soil around the Mission was able to support a number of different crops including oranges, grapes, wheat, and hemp. Hemp was used to make string, rope, and clothing. The Mission also had room for cattle, sheep, and hogs. By 1831 there were 2800 neophytes living at the Mission. Mission San Luis Rey had the largest number of Native Californian converts in the entire Mission chain.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    The secularization process caused great hardship for those living at the Mission. Father Peyri had lived at the Mission for 34 years but was forced to leave by the new Mexican government. The Mission lands were sold to family members of California’s governor, Pio Pico, for $2,437—the Mission was actually worth more than $200,000 at the time. Everything valuable was taken and the buildings left to ruin. The site was used during the U.S. war with Mexico by U.S. troops. What was left of the Mission compound was returned to the Catholic Church in 1860s by President Lincoln. The Mission remained uninhabited until 1892 when the Bishop of California allowed several Franciscan friars to open a missionary college there.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    Mission San Luis Rey, 1936In 1893 restoration efforts began. The Mission was repaired by Father. Joseph Jeremiah O’Keefe and rededicated May 12, 1893. A smaller quadrangle was completed by 1905. Restoration continued over the years and the mission was featured in a film “The Pride of Palomar” from the 1930s and a television show, Zorro, filmed there in 1957. The Mission was made a national historic landmark in 1970.

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