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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Luis, Obispo de Tolosa was the 5th mission in the 21 Mission chain and was founded by Father Junipero Serra. The Mission was named for the son of an Italian King and Nephew of a French King. At a young age he gave up his fortune and ability to inherit the Italian throne and was named the Bishop of Toulouse. He died less than a year afterwards; he was only 23. Father Serra held a mass dedicating the land in 1772. The Mission is nicknamed the ‘Prince of the Missions.’
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Bibliography History Button   Location and Geography
    The area around Mission San Luis Obispo was found by Portola and his men on their way back from their attempt to locate Monterey In 1769. As the men were looking for food grizzly bears attacked them. One bear almost killed them before they were able to shoot it. They named the area La Cañada de los Osos or Valley of the Bears.

The Spanish eventually realized that the “Valley of the Bears” had a large amount of food and other natural resources and that the local tribe, the Chumash, were friendly. They decided that it would be a good location for another Mission. The Mission is located a few miles from the coast in a protected valley with good land for farming.

Top of Page Button   The Native Americans
    The main tribe in the area around Mission San Luis Obispo 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.

By 1804 records show that 832 neophytes lived at the mission.
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. Father Jose Cavaller was named to head the building of the Mission. Father Serra had left Father Cavaller with only seven other men to help him build the Mission. Father Cavaller asked the Chumash to help. The Chumash were interested in the weapons and different foods that the Spanish had and offered to help and trade with them. Some eventually accepted the Mission’s offer to stay and became Christians. The first buildings were built of wood poles and brush. The temporary wood buildings burned easily and the Spanish wanted to make more permanent structures. They taught the Chumash how to create bricks using adobe. Although the walls were made of adobe, the roofs were made of poles and tule leaves. The Mission was attacked three times by Native tribes that disagreed with the Chumash’s decision to allow the Spanish to stay and each time the roofs burned. Eventually the Spanish figured out that they could make clay tiles from clay to cover the roof.

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 Mission prospered and became quite large with many work areas and sleeping rooms. The Mission also had aqueducts to carry water to the gardens, ranchos for farming and keeping livestock, and two smaller branch churches or asistencias. The Mission has suffered damage from earthquakes in the past, including one in 1830.

Father Cavaller died in 1789 and Father Miguel Giribet was appointed to take his place. Eventually Father Luis Antonio Martinez joined Father Giribet. Father Martinez was well liked by the Chumash but not well liked by the military. In 1830 the military decided they had had enough and accused him of treason. He was forced to leave Alta California.

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 Chumash didn’t like the Spanish Missionaries taking their land and telling them how to live. The Spanish found it difficult to convince the Chumash to convert to Christianity and live at the Mission. Unlike at other missions, the Chumash that had converted were allowed to visit their families and friends at the village about once every 5 weeks. The Fathers hoped that the visitors would convince other tribe members to come to the Mission, but the Chumash didn’t need the Mission’s help to survive.

By 1780 the Spanish decided to allow the Natives to appoint an alcade. The alcade, a Native tribe member, talked to both sides and tried to help settle disputes.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    In 1845 most of the Mission, except for the church, was sold off at auction to Captain John Wilson for $510. The Mission Church was returned to the Catholic Church in 1859 and eventually changed to resemble a more traditional style church, complete with a steeple. The bell tower fell in 1897 and a fire ravaged the Parish in 1934. Most of the wooden additions and buildings were burned.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    A restoration effort was headed by Father John Harnett and Sir Harry Downie. Sir Harry Downie is best known for completing the restoration of Mission San Carlos in Carmel.

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