This was my fourth visit to California in four years. I had decided to do what most of the travel bloggers I read say to do. Don’t plan out everything. So I didn’t plan much. I booked my flight, organized a few activities and headed down to California to see my friends Meg and Kris.
On my first day visiting Kris made the recommendation for us to tour the San Juan Capistrano Mission. It sounded like the perfect spot to visit, it was historic, had plenty of photography opportunities and was somewhere I had never been before.
We entered in the main entrance and purchased our admission tickets along with a headset for the audio tour. This mission was the 7th of 21 missions built in California during the late 1780’s.
As we walked out into the courtyard we pulled out our map that we were given and began finding our way around the tour. The map marks important stops that may or may not include informative audio. The map is also slightly confusing as it is not in numeric order as you walk. I am sure there was some logic to it but to us it seemed a little unclear.
In the first courtyard we found an olive millstone where we learned that the Spanish missionaries planted olive trees on the several hundred thousand acres they occupied and milled the olives to create olive oil.
In addition to the olive oil the missionaries also made wine. The California wine industry is said to be born right here at this mission. In 1779 one of the Fathers brought wine cuttings to the mission and planted them here. The other California missions followed suit and planted their own vines as well. The wine was used for daily drinking as well as for mass.
As we moved from the front courtyard to the central courtyard we found in the center a peaceful water pool complete with lily-pads and coy fish.
We then wove our way around the courtyard taking in the beautiful buildings, and walking through the ST. Peregrine Chapel. The chapel was filled with stunning ornate detailing. In the 1950’s the chapel was dedicated to the Italian St. Peregrine. Although St. Peregrine lead a rather rambunctious early life, he found his calling and founded a monastery. Later in his life he developed cancer in his leg. On the eve of the night before his leg was to be amputated he had a vision that Christ touched his foot. Oddly enough he was miraculously healed of cancer. He was later made a Saint after his passing. He became the patron saint for individuals suffering from cancer and in the last 20 years, those who are suffering from AIDS.
After leaving the chapel we entered the cemetery that lead us out to the bell wall. There are two sizes of bells, the larger, which are reproductions of the bells that hung in the Great Stone Church until an earthquake in 1812. The two smaller bells date back to 1804. In addition to the bells ringing in the morning, mid-day and evening, the bells would be rung if someone had died. The sound of the bell, the time of day they were being rung and how many rungs were made would signify if a man, woman or child had died.
The most impressive part of the mission is the Ruins of the Great Stone Church. Construction of this church began in 1797 and took 9 years to complete. It once had 7 domes and a 70 foot bell tower. On December 8th, 1812 a massive earthquake hit during morning mass. The walls and roof of the church collapsed on the worshipers, killing 40 people. Over the years preservation tactics have been taken, with the most costly in 1989, a 15 year 9.6 million dollar USD project. This project protected the ruins as well as made it earthquake proof. After the project’s completion in June 2004, mass was held, after a 200 year hiatus.