The Purpose Of California Missions

What are the historic goals in California? Why did they build Missions? What was the main goal of Spanish Missions? What was the priest’s purpose in building Missions? Where can I find a map of California Missions? These are just some questions we answered in this article.

21 Spanish Missions represent the period from 1769 to 1832 when Spanish Fathers came to Upper California to spread the Catholic religion and educate the Natives. The plan was to colonize local population and convert them to the Catholic faith.

Father Junipero Serra founded the first mission in 1769 - mission San Diego de Alcala. To see the list of all missions click this link.

Mission's era ended by Act of Secularization in 1832. when Mexican government confiscated the land and livestock and sold them to the local pueblos. In 1950 California became part of the US. In 1865 Abraham Lincoln gave the proclamation to restore ownership of missions to a Catholic church. 

Missions have historical significance and they are the example of the wonderful architecture that many followed throughout the State. 

The Missions were usually very large, but they were not of the same size. Today, they are active and open to visitors. Missions are a visual representation of the way how the nation grew and developed.

California missions were designed by the Padres (nine were founded by Junipero Serra), while the Native Americans helped to build them. All the missions had the basic plan; Large, four-sided mission layout building with a patio in the center. The place for the church was usually in the corner of the square. The rooms in the square building were faced to the patio, while the other three sides contained the rooms for the two priests, workshops, a kitchen, storage rooms for food, and the mission office. Huts outside the Mission walls were reserved for the rest of Native Americans.

To learn more about everyday life in the missions read this article

California Missions Map

Junipero Serra and other Padres chose mission locations because they were along trade route in Alta California. You can find and download a map of California mission below. 

California Missions Map - Infographic

Download California missions map as PDF - California Missions Map Infographics.pdf 1.69 MB

Expeditions departed from Mexico to California in 1769, under the order of the Spanish king, meeting in San Diego where the first fort and mission were established to serve as frontier outposts. Franciscan missionaries were sent together with the military troops to colonize the territory with the goal to spread Christian faith. The establishment of the missions began seven years before the American Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. The expansion of the mission came to an end in 1823. 

Twenty-one missions were established over the period of fifty-four years. Some of them served as a foundation for the development of cities such as San Diego, Santa Barbara, San Jose and San Francisco. When you think about California, you just can't imagine without missions. California we know today has been shaped by the Spanish friars and the Native Americans that all participated in this demanding undertaking.

To find answers to common questions for 4th-grade students check California Missions Q&A.

Mission San Luis Rey History Video

The eighteenth mission is San Luis Rey de Francia. It was the largest (950,400 acres) and the most populated of all. It was the ninth mission founded by Father Lasuén June 13, 1798, and the last mission founded before his death in 1803.

Mission was named after the Louis IX, King of France (1215-1270), the original name was La Misión de San Luis, Rey de Francia (The Mission of Saint Louis, King of France). The church was designed by Father Antonio Peyri and building began in 1811, but was not completed before 1815.

Mission San Luis had the largest herd of livestock of any of the missions. The livestock they had was numerous, besides 50,000 cattle and sheep, there were 1,300 goats, 300 pigs, and almost 2,000 horses.

The Franciscans left the Mission in 1846 but they returned in 1892 and began the restoration.

If you are interested to learn more about Missions in California, especially about Old Mission San Luis Rey register for Behind the Scene Tour. Docents and professors will provide historical facts and amazing stories about this historic site in 75 minutes tour. 

Since you’re here...

Did you know the Mission San Luis Rey is completely self-supporting?

No money is received from the state or federal governments, the Catholic Church, or the Diocese. Operating funds are raised by our Retreat Center, Museum, Gift Shop, Cemetery, and generous donations from people like you.

Help preserve the Old Mission San Luis Rey for future generations! Please, click on Make a Donation form or Membership Form button and choose a membership option. Thank you.

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