California Missions Q&A

This page will give you accurate and straight forward answers to most common questions about the California Missions era: How did the Missions start, what was their purpose, what was their influence on California, how Mission era ended, how are California Missions used today and many other. We’ll strive to frequently update the page with new chapters, question and answers.

California Missions QA


How far apart are California Missions?
Overall distance of El Camino Real (Royal road) from San Diego de Alcala to San Francisco de Solano is 650 miles. Distance from one to another Mission is about thirty miles. The main idea at the time was that distance between Missions should be one day journey with horse or donkey.

How did the California Missions start?
Spanish Empire starts building Missions in Alta California in 1769. Till 1823 they had founded 21 Missions along California coast. The main goal was to bring the Catholic faith to the natives.

How were the California Missions connected?
The Royal road was nothing else but humble footpath. As the chain of Missions start to grow footpath became dirt road capable to conform carriage. The first segment of the Royal road was paved in 1912 at San Francisco area.

How did the California Missions end?
California Mission era ended by Mexican Secularization act in 1933, 12 years after Mexico won independence from Spain. Secularization act called An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California, confiscated and took away land from the Missions and gave it to the local Indians. Shortly after land fall into the hands of “speculators” since Indians were giving up their land rights and ownership. Natives sold land for a small portion of actual worth.

How to visit California Missions?
If you want to visit whichever of Missions your starting point should be an official website. There you will find Mission location and driving directions if you plan to visit on your own. Most of the Missions have museums with dedicated curators that can explain interesting facts in one hour tour. If you plan visiting Missions in groups or with family there are numerous tourist organizations that offer a trip to all existing Missions. Most accurate info can be found at

How were the California Missions named?
Most of the Missions were named after a saint. Names had been given by missionaries. Mission Santa Cruz was named after the Holy Cross. See here a complete list of missions in Alta California.

How did the California Missions make money?
Missions made money by trading and selling animals, leather, wool, wheat, maize and barley with surrounding people and other Missions. Money to start the Missions of California came from Pious Fund, founded by Jesuit missionaries. 10000 pesos had been given to every new Mission along El Camino road. Money was spent on tools, animals, seeds, bells, and vestments.

How many California Missions are still standing?
Actually, all of the California Mission still standing. Most of them are in perfect shape. Restoration of churches, bell towers and courtyards has been done according to original plans from the 18th century.

How are California Missions used today?
Today most of the Missions are used as churches, retreat centers and cemeteries. They also include museums and gift shops. The Missions are fully self-financed since no funds are received by California State. Despite that fact, most of them are renewed and in good shape. Restoration has been done according to original structure and design.

How many California Missions are there?
There are 21 Missions. They were built from 1769 until 1823. Most of them, nine, were founded by Franciscan priest Father Junipero Serra. Also, nine Missions were founded by Fermin Francisco de Lausen (1736-1803). To see the complete list of the California Mission with founding dates visit this link.


Where were California Missions built?
Chain of Missions is located along California Pacific Ocean coast. At the time location was called Alta California. Today we call this road El Camino Real. It stretches out from San Diego to San Francisco and has the length approximately 650 miles (966 km).


Which California Mission is the oldest?
The oldest Mission is San Diego de Alcala. It was founded by Franciscan priest Father Junipero Serra and was built in 1769. It is located at 10818 San Diego Mission Rd. San Diego, California 92108.

Which California Mission has the largest church?
15th Mission, founded by Father Lasuen in 1797 San Juan Bautista has the largest church of all Missions. Old Mission San Juan Bautista is the only church with three aisles. Today it is fully restored giving a young couples opportunity to get married in this beautiful place.

Which California Mission is the biggest?
Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the largest Mission. It is called King of the Missions. Oceanside Mission was founded in 1798 as 18th Mission in the chain by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. Mission was named after St. Louis IX, King of France. It is located in Oceanside, 4050 Mission Avenue, CA 92057.

Which California Mission is the smallest?
Smallest is Mission Santa Cruz. Founded in 1791 by Father Lausen. Interesting is the fact that it was named after the Holy Cross, not after a saint. It is located at 126 High Street Santa Cruz, CA 95060.

Which California Mission has the most bells?
Every Mission church had bells. They were used to call for service in the church, announcing the time for meals, wedding and even death. Some had bell towers but most of them had bells wall that was attached to the church. The Mission bells were made in Peru or Mexico. Many bells had their names, given after a saint. The material used for the Mission bells was bronze, silver and iron. Bells of the Missions are California trademark and important cultural heritage.


Who worked on the California Missions?
Native Indians worked and maintained the Missions. They worked in the field and with animals. They also had to attend masses.

Who bought the California Missions?
After Secularization Act Mission’s land was confiscated and offered for sale to citizens or auctioned (under very strange circumstances or low price). Some land was given to military officers who fought in War of Independence. When the US defeated Mexico in War in 1846 and took over California things were about to change. Bishop Joseph Alemany started a petition in 1853 to return land and buildings to the church. In 1865 president Lincoln signed a proclamation to restore ownership of Missions property to the Catholic Church.

Who designed the California Missions?
Founding priests and missionaries were responsible for design and layout of the Missions. There are no two identical Missions in California but they all have something in common when it comes to design. Founding Padres wanted to create buildings similar to those in Europe. Roman and Spain’s influence is visible in domes, vaults, arcades and arches, especially in churches. There is Mexican influence as well, mostly seen in Mission San Luis Rey.

Who made the California Missions?
A decision to build Missions came from the King of Spain. But responsibility on the field was on priest Junipero Serra and missionaries allocated to that Mission.

Who settled nine California Missions?
Spanish Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra settled the first nine Missions in California. His mission was to bring Catholicism to natives in California. He died at the age of 70 at Mission San Carlos Borromeo. After he died father Fermín Lasuén became the leader of Franciscan missionaries in Alta California.

Who lived in California Missions?
Native Indians, priests and soldiers lived in Missions. Indians worked on the field and had to attend and participate church masses held by padres. Once they were baptized they become New Believer or so-called Neophyte. Soldiers protected padres and missions from intruders. Every mission had 6 soldiers that were responsible to the governor, not padres.

Who owns California Missions?
Most of the Missions are owned by Catholic Church. Three of them Santa Barbara, San Miguel Arcángel, and San Luis Rey de Francia are under the jurisdiction of the Franciscan order. Mission La Purísima Concepción, Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission Santa Cruz are owned by the California Department of Parks and Recreation.


What were the California Missions built out of?
Basic building materials used in Missions were timber, adobe, brick, stone and tile. Since padres were not able to deploy material from Europe, they only used materials available in California coast. Bricks and tiles were made out of clay or mud. Trees used were pine, alder, poplar, cypress and juniper because they were big enough to be used for door and windows. The roof was made of thatch (first Missions) but it was easy to catch a fire so Padres replaced them with tejas – roof tiles. Church bells were made of iron and bronze, rarely of silver.

What did the California Missions look like?
There are no two exactly the same Missions out there but all of them had the following: the church with the chapel, wall with bells or tower with bells, patio with garden and fountain. Also, there was kitchen, priests and soldiers quarters, barrack for horses, laundry, carpentry and blacksmith shop. Some Missions had a winery.

If we need to stress common elements for all of them we should start with corridors, campanarios (bell towers), cemetery, sloping tile roofs, patio with garden or fountain, wide eaves and massive surrounding walls.

What is California Mission style?
That is the 19th-century style in architecture that found inspiration in Alta California Missions. This style was very popular in the US from 1890 until 1915. Typical examples of California Mission style are Mission Inn in Riverside, Union Station (Santa Fe Depot) in San Diego, California Baptist University in Riverside, Valdosta State University in Georgia and many more.

What did California Missions produce?
Alongside crops (barley, corn, wheat, beans and peas) missions had been involved in livestock farming. They produce enough food for their needs, plus they were selling and trade cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and oxen with other missions or citizens. We can say that agriculture in California started with Missions since native Indians were hunters and were not acquainted with growing crops. Despite this fact, Indians became very good workers in the field and farmers.

What did California Missions use for money?
Alta California Missions were using pesos as money.

What do California Missions have in common?
Missions had in common their main purpose – to spread Catholic faith in California. In architectural terms, they all had a fort, church (with chapel), wall (or tower) with bells and village where people lived. All were built from timber, adobe, brick, stone and tile. Also in common was farming and growing crops.

What did California Missions trade?
They were trading livestock and crops they had grown – barley, corn, wheat, beans and peas. Missions from the South also trade fruits. Fathers brought fruit to Alta California from Spain and other parts of Europe. Trade has been done with other Missions or eastern states.

What is California Missions purpose?
The main purpose of California missions and founding priests was to spread Catholic faith among native Indians. Indians who accepted new faith and baptized were called neophytes. To read full article click here.


When were California Missions built?
21 California missions were built from 1769 (Mission San Diego de Alcalá) to 1823 (Mission San Francisco Solano).

When were the California Missions secularized?
Missions in California were secularized in 1831 by Mexico government act called An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California and that was the end of Missions era. (California was part of Mexico from 1821. after Mexico won independence from Spain) Mission’s land was confiscated and given to the Indians. Secularization was a good thing for Spanish-Mexican settlers and ex-soldiers who bought land and created ranchos. Many times they cheated Natives and took their land property under strange circumstances.