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Encyclopedia > California mission
Postcard of the reconstructed Mission Santa Bárbara

The California missions are a series of settlements established by Spanish Catholic Franciscans, to Christianize the local Native Americans, but with the added benefit of giving Spain a toehold in the frontier land. The missions introduced European livestock, fruits and vegetables and industry into the California region.

The 21 missions were established along California's El Camino Real (Spanish for King's Highway), much of which is now U.S. Highway 101. The mission planting was begun under the leadership of Father Junípero Serra in 1769, and concluded in 1823, although Serra had died in 1784. Father Fermín Francisco Lasuén took up Serra's work and established nine more from 1786 through 1798. Others established the last three.

The missions are the best-known historical element of the coastal regions of California. This popularity, stemming largely from Helen Hunt Jackson's highly romantic novel Ramona (1884), has been both a blessing and a curse. It has earned the missions a prominent place in California's historic consciousness, and sent a steady stream of visitors to these sites.

In many cases, it led to the reconstruction of these missions, with at best an honest but poorly informed attempt to adhere to historic reality. Lacking substantive knowledge of the native people who built and inhabited these missions, the reconstructors largely left them out of the story. Many reconstructed missions are adorned with lush gardens, even though research indicates that these did not exist. Furthermore, the reconstructions severely damaged the archaeological record.


Architectural influence

The "Mission Style" has influenced both furnishings and architecture, the later particularly in California.


Influenced by early mission furnishings, mission style furniture bears some similarity to the related Arts and Crafts style furniture, using similar materials but without Arts and Crafts' emphasis on refinement of line and decoration. Oak is the typical material, finished with its natural golden appearance that will age to a rich medium brown color. Components such as legs will often be straight, not tapered, and surfaces will be flat, rather than curved. Generous use of materials leads to heavy and solid furnishings, giving an impression of "groundedness", through simplicity, functionality and stability. Straightforward lines predominate, with little or no decoration, other than that which is incidental to function, such as forged iron hinges and latches. The leading designer of furnishings in this style during the Arts and Crafts movement was Gustav Stickley.


Mission buildings were largely made from thick walls of adobe bricks overcoated with weather-resistant and whitewashed plaster, often used arches, terracotta tile roofs, and extended roof elements to create shady porches and walkways adjacent to the primary structure. These elements are frequently included in the exterior finish of modern buildings in California and the Southwest U.S., elements of the Mission Style. In modern buildings such features will typically be constructed from concrete stucco over hollow plywood and wood frame structures or of concrete block with a cast surface to resemble adobe block. Interiors, if done in the mission style, will typically have plaster interiors with rounded edges and rough surfaces, sometimes with a very restrained use of embedded decorative tiles. Floors will often be brick red tiles, and exposed, darkly stained (nonstructural) beams (built up from boards) may be present on the ceilings. Colors will tend to off white or ivory. The inclusion of these features in whole or part into otherwise ordinary commercial buildings has been named by critics as "mission impossible", seen most brashly in the fast food emporiums of Taco Bell.

When well done, a mission style building will convey an impression of simplicity, permanence, and comfort, with coolness in the heat of the day and warmth in the cold of night.

The missions

The missions were placed about 30 miles apart, so that they were separated by one day's long ride on horseback along El Camino Real.

In geographical order, north to south

In chronological order

See also

External links

Wikimedia Commons has multimedia related to:
California missions
  • California Mission Studies Association (http://www.ca-missions.org/)
  • The Old Franciscan Missions Of California eText (http://www.gutenberg.org/dirs/1/3/8/5/13854/13854-h/13854-h.htm) at Project Gutenberg

  Results from FactBites:
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: California Missions (4611 words)
In turn the Jesuits were to enjoy the privilege of enlisting soldiers to act as guards for the missions at the expense of the Society, and at time of war these soldiers were to be considered on the same footing with those of the regular army.
During the sixty years that the Jesuits were permitted to labour among the natives of California, fifty-six members of the Society of Jesus came to the peninsula, of whom sixteen, two as martyrs, died at their posts.
The Indians gradually disappeared; the mission property was squandered; the mission buildings given over to destruction; the missionaries one by one died amid the few faithful who shared the poverty of the beloved padre, and the land once cultivated by the neophytes passed into the hands of the avaricious.
California Guide - The California Missions (724 words)
Twenty one missions were built in southern California as part of the Spanish colonisation of the eighteenth century, from San Diego de Alcala in the south - the earliest to be constructed, in 1769 - to San Francisco de Solano in the north.
Mission San Diego de Alcala - first built of the 21 missions, San Diego de Alcala is 7 miles from downtown San Diego in a quiet, leafy part of the suburbs yet close to several main roads and the I-8/I-15 interchange.
The mission has one large enclosed central courtyard and other associated gardens, all with flourishing trees, wildflowers, cacti and succulents, fountains and statues, and several hours could be spent exploring all the different areas.
  More results at FactBites »



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