UPDATE: It is important to remember that while California Missions have been hailed as places of peace, they also have deep and complicated histories, including slavery, violence, and forced religious conversion.
One of my favorite things about California history is that of the Spanish missions. It is a goal of mine to visit each of them, and before this last Tuesday, I had only been to three of them. Mission San Juan Capistrano, often described as the “jewel” of the missions, is not too far from us, and is absolutely stunning, so gear up for a pretty gosh darn picture heavy post!
Founded November 1, 1776, Mission San Juan Capistrano is large, and lush, featuring a church, housing, plaza and patio, as well as lush garden, where the first vineyard was planted in California. What was called the “Great Stone Church” was completed in 1806, and offered a beautiful place to worship for six years until tragedy struck on December 8, 1812, when a massive earthquake occurred. The roof of the Great Stone Church collapsed, killing 40 worshipers, as well as the two boys who were ringing the bells. This tragedy makes Mission San Juan Capistrano one of California’s most haunted locations, with various claims of apparitions, and even SyFy’s Ghost Hunters filmed there, capturing compelling evidence. Today the ruins of the Great Stone Church remain, and are one of the few true ruins in America.
Despite the tragedy of 1812, Mission San Juan Capistrano provides a unique place to learn about California’s history, including Native Americans, religious issues, and colonization.