Spanish Missions of California

When were the California missions built?
The first California mission was started on July 16, 1769 in San Diego, and the last was founded on July 4, 1823 in what is now Sonoma.

Why were the California missions built?
Spanish Catholics built the chain of missions in California as churches and military outposts in order to convert and educate the Native Americans as they colonized the state. Spanish colonists hoped to take control of the region by creating a society of obedient citizens to pay taxes.

Who was Junipero Serra?
Fray Junipero Serra (or Fra Juníper Serra in his native Catalan) is responsible for founding the chain of missions in California, starting with the first in San Diego. After joining the Order of Friars Minor, Serra moved from Spain to Mexico. He headed out to Alta California, and stayed in San Diego to help establish the mission there. He held the title “Father Presidente” and continued working with the missions until he died at age 70 at Mission Carmel, where he is buried.

How many missions are there in California?
There are 21 Spanish missions in California.

Where are the California missions located?
The Spanish missions of California are spread across California, from San Diego in the south, all the way to Sonoma, which is north of San Francisco. The missions are located in the following cities in California:

  • San Diego
  • San Luis Rey
  • San Juan Capistrano
  • San Gabriel
  • Ventura
  • Mission Hills
  • Santa Barbara
  • Solvang
  • Lompoc
  • San Luis Obispo
  • San Miguel
  • Jolon
  • Soledad
  • Carmel
  • San Juan Bautista
  • Santa Cruz
  • Santa Clara
  • Fremont
  • San Francisco
  • San Rafael
  • Sonoma

What are the names of the 21 Spanish missions of California?
From south to north along the El Camino Real:

  • San Diego de Alcala – 1st mission
  • San Luis Rey de Francia – 18th mission
  • San Juan Capistrano – 7th mission
  • San Gabriel Arcangel – 4th mission
  • San Buenaventura – 9th mission
  • San Fernando Rey de Espana – 17th mission
  • Santa Barbara – 10th mission
  • Santa Ines – 19th mission
  • La Purisima Conception – 11th mission
  • San Luis Obispo de Tolosa – 5th mission
  • San Miguel Arcangel – 16th mission
  • San Antonia de Padua – 3rd mission
  • Nuestra Senora de la Soledad – 13th mission
  • San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo – 2nd mission
  • San Juan Bautista – 15th mission
  • Santa Cruz – 12th mission
  • Santa Clara de Asis – 8th mission
  • San Jose – 14th mission
  • San Francisco de Asis, Mission Dolores – 6th mission
  • San Rafael Arcangel – 20th mission
  • San Francisco Solano – 21st mission

In order of construction:

  1. San Diego de Alcala
  2. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
  3. San Antonia de Padua
  4. San Gabriel Arcangel
  5. San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
  6. San Francisco de Asis, Mission Dolores
  7. San Juan Capistrano
  8. Santa Clara de Asis
  9. San Buenaventura
  10. Santa Barbara
  11. La Purisima Conception
  12. Santa Cruz
  13. Nuestra Senora de la Soledad
  14. San Jose
  15. San Juan Bautista
  16. San Miguel Arcangel
  17. San Fernando Rey de Espana
  18. San Luis Rey de Francia
  19. Santa Ines
  20. San Rafael Arcangel
  21. San Francisco Solano

What is El Camino Real?
El Camino Real, or the Royal Road, named for the Spanish royalty who financed the expeditions of California, is the road that travels between all of the missions. El Camino Real travels through many of California’s best cities.

Highway 101 follows most of the route of El Camino Real with a few exceptions, where El Camino Real follows another highway. Those sections are as follows:

  • San Diego to Los Angeles: Interstate 5
  • Santa Clara to San Francisco: State Highway 82
  • San Rafael to Sonoma: State Highway 82

All other sections of El Camino Real are located along Highway 101.

El Camino Real’s route is marked at every mile with a bronze mission bells to signify the historic path. The bronze bells are also placed in front of each mission.

When did the mission system end? Why?
After Mexico achieved independence from Spain it couldn’t afford to keep the missions up and running. In 1834, Mexico decided to end the mission system and sell the land. They tried to get Indians to buy the land, but they didn’t want it. Instead, Mexico divided the land and sold parts of it to Mexican citizens.

During his presidency, President Abraham Lincoln formally required the return of the missions to the Roman Catholic Church.

What is the state of the California missions today?
Many missions have been reconstructed after damage from earthquakes and natural wear that has occurred over time. Most missions still operate as churches with regular services, and are open to the public, with museums and tours.

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Last Updated on: October 3rd, 2017