The California Missions On-Line Project
Mission San Juan Capistrano
Founded November 1, 1776

Founding of the mission

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. It was the 7th mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. It was named for Saint John of Capistrano, Italy, theologian. It is the only mission to have been founded twice. Originally it was founded by Father Lasuen on October 30, 1775. Eight days after the founding the mission San Diego de Alcala was under attack. The padres, soldiers and others returned to San Diego . Before they left, Padre Lasuen buried the mission bells. Father Serra returned to uncover the bells and once again begin the mission at San Juan Capistrano.

Back to the top

Local Indians
Click here to see a video of a replica of the type of homes that the Indians once used

The local Juaneno Indians at Mission San Juan Capistrano were friendly from the very beginning, helping to build the mission buildings, chapel and church. The work of building was done by the Indians. The Indians became skilled working in the mission workshops. The Indians spun, wove, sewed, and carved wood. They became good wagonmakers, blacksmiths, shoemakers, winemakers, and olive-oil makers. They were good at making leather hides too.

Back to the top

Economy of the mission

The economy of the missions were similar to each other 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. The Mission was a success from the start. There was good soil, climate and helpful Indians. Records show that in 1811 San Juan Capistrano grew 500,000 pounds of wheat; 190,000 pounds of barley; 202,000 pounds of corn; 20,600 pounds of beans; 14,000 cattle; 16,000 sheep and 740 horses.

Back to the top

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

As the mission grew, its people outgrew the small chapel. In 1797, work began on what was to become the largest church in the California Mission Chain. It was finished in 1806. In December of 1812, while two Indians were ringing the mass bells, a large earthquake hit the area and destroyed most of the church, killing 40 Indians including the two boys who were ringing the bells. They never rebuilt the church, instead choosing to continue using the chapel for services. The quadrangle was built so big that it could house all of the mission Indians. The small chapel is known as the Father Serra Chapel of Father Serra's Church as that is the only remaining building where it is certain that he said mass.

Back to the top


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. A copy of this is on display in the mission museum. At this time there were 861 Indians living at the mission. They did not want to stay at the mission and in 1845 the mission was sold to governor Pio Pico's brother-in-law for $710,000.

Back to the top


The Mission San Juan Capistrano was not kept up during the years following secularization. By 1866, the mission was rotting and near ruin. Several attempts were made to restore the mission, but it wasn't until 1910 when Father John O'Sullivan came to the mission that it was completely restored and rebuilt. In 1918, Father O'Sullivan was given permission to make the mission into an active church once again. The following priests at the mission have continued to restore and maintain the mission.

Click here to see a video of the swallows at the Mission San Juan Capistrano
Back to the top

Current use

Today, the mission is an active parish that continues to serve the people of the City of San Juan Capistrano. The mission and the grounds have been wonderfully restored, with a complete quadrangle. In some of the rooms at the mission are museums and displays from the mission period. Visitors are welcomed at the mission. One of the most popular events is the return of the swallows each March 19th. These birds fly south for the winter on October 23rd and return on March 19th every year like clockwork. Crowds of people come to greet them each year. The restoration and loving care given to Mission San Juan Capistrano has helped it to be known as "Jewel of the Missions".

Back to the top

Graphic tour
Click below to see a video Inside the Mission Church
Click here to see a video of the Cemetery at the San Juan Capistrano Mission
Back to the top

Mission Quiz

Objective: answer 7 questions correctly. JavaScript required!

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

Pio Pico
Gaspar de Portola
Junipero Serra
Sebastian Vizcaino

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

November 1, 1776
September 21, 1769
April 21, 1782
June 14, 1804

3. What happens every March 19th at the San Juan Capistrano Mission?

corn is planted
swallows return to the mission
an earthquake

4. Who was in charge of rebuilding the Mission in 1910?

Junipero Serra
Father John O'Sullivan
Pio Pico
The Mission Association

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. San Juan Capistrano is the only mission...?

that has been completely rebuilt
without a church
to have been founded twice
with a bell tower

8. What is the chapel at Mission San Juan Capistrano known for?

It was destroyed in an earthquake that killed 40 Indians
It was built my Mexican soldiers, not Indians
It is the only standing building in which Father Serra is known to have said mass
Being the largest chapel in the mission chain

9. What happened in 1812?

a fire burned the mission
Missions were taken over by Mexican priests
An earthquake destroyed the main church

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

Back to the top

The Mission Page | The Assessment Page |Main Page

Other San Juan Capistrano Sites

California Mission Internet Trail

The Spanish Missions of California

California Missions

California Missions

The Mission San Juan Capistrano - Lots of information on Mission San Juan Capistrano. Basically, all the flyers/brochures/handouts from the Mission SJC are typed up and available on the web here.

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 Febraury 28, 2015