The California Missions On-Line Project
Mission San Juan Bautista
Founded June 24, 1797

Founding of the mission

Mission San Juan Bautista was founded on Saturday, June 24, 1797 by Father Fermin de Lasuen, Presidente of the California Missions, a post he held after the death of Father Junipero Serra. It was the 15th mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. It was named for Saint John the Baptist. The mission church is said to be the largest of the missions and held 1,000 people during the mission days. The dimensions are 188 feet long and 72 feet wide and is the only mission with 3 aisles, two on the sides and one down the center of the church.

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Local Indians
Click here to see a video of the Mission cemetery

The cemetery is an olive grove behind the church. There are more than 4,000 Indians buried in the mission cemetery which is located right on the San Andreas earthquake fault. In the distance you can see present day farmers working the crops in the Central Valley of California just as the mission Indians once worked.

The Indians of the Mission San Juan Bautista area were part of the Ohlone Tribe. They were friendly and came to help build the mission, work in the fields and take care of the cattle. The Indians built all of the buildings and did nearly all of the work on the mission. The Indians at this mission liked the lifestyle so much that they needed to enlarge the church to hold 1,000 people.

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Economy of the mission

The economy at Mission San Juan Bautista was similar to the other missions in that they planted crops of wheat and corn. They also planted vineyards, and raised cattle and sheep. The agriculture was needed not only to maintain the mission community and the nearby Indians, but was used for trade and served to visitors to the mission. A thriving trading center for tides, tallow and farm products, sprung up around the mission.

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The community
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Quadrangle

The town of San Juan Bautista grew up around the mission. Barracks for soldiers, a nunnery, the Castro House and other buildings were constructed around a large grassy plaza in front of the church and can be seen today in their original form. The town of San Juan Bautista grew rapidly during the Gold Rush and continues to be a thriving community today.

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After Mexico won its independence from Spain, it found that it could no longer afford to keep the missions running as Spain had done. In 1834, Mexico decided to end the mission system and sell all of the lands. They offered the lands to the Indians who did not want the lands or could not come up with the purchase price. The lands were divided into smaller Ranchos and sold to Mexican citizens who were helpful during the war for independence. After nearly 30 years, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church. Although some of the missions had already been returned to the church, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act declaring that all of the 21 missions in the California mission chain would become the property of the Catholic Church and have remained so since that time.

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Mission San Juan Bautista has served mass daily since 1797, so there never was much of a rebirth. The mission was restored in once 1884, and again, in 1949 the mission was restored and was financed by the Hearst foundation.

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Current use
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Chapel

Mission San Juan Bautista is still active to this day and claims to have served mass every day since 1797. The mission is still used as a parish church and continues be active in the community.

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Graphic tour
Click below to see a video Inside the Mission Church
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Mission Quiz

Objective: answer 7 questions correctly. JavaScript required!

1. Who was the founder of Mission San Juan Bautista?

Junipero Serra
Gaspar de Portola
Fermin Lasuen
Sebastian Vizcaino

2. Mission San Juan Bautista was founded....?

June 24, 1797
September 21, 1769
April 21, 1782
June 14, 1804

3. Mission San Juan Bautista is the only mission with...?

a tile roof
a 3-aisle church
priests buried under the altar
field trips

4. Mission San Juan Bautista is know as...?

the smallest of the missions
the largest of the missions
the oldest of the missions
the coolest of the missions

5. Who did the actual building of the missions?

construction companies
the priests
the soldiers
the local Indians

6. What happened to the missions in 1834?

They opened
The Indians took over

7. Mission San Juan Bautista claims to...?

have an organ in the church
be the richest of the missions
have served mass every day since 1797
have a bell tower

8. Mission San Juan Bautista is named after...?

Father Serra
Father Lasuen
St. John the Baptist
the King of Spain

9. What happened in 1833?

An earthquake
Father Serra died
the Mission was taken over by Mexican priests

10. What did Abraham Lincoln agree to in 1863?

Formally return the Mission lands to the Church
Run for President of the United States
Visit the San Antonio de Padua Mission
force the Indians to leave the Mission

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The Mission Page | The Assessment Page |Main Page

Other San Juan Bautista sites:

California Mission Internet Trail

The Spanish Missions of California

California Missions

San Juan Bautista - Click on Indian Family Housing at Mission San Juan Bautista and Gallery of photos and drawings. Report of archaeological work on State of California Parks property near the mission church. Text by state archaeologist Glenn Farris.

This project written by Rob Garretson in partial fulfilment of the Master's of Arts Degree from Cal Poly Pomona

Please send questions and/or comments to Mr. Garretson

This page last updated on February 28, 2015