This Is The Oldest Place You Can Possibly Go In Southern California And Its History Will Fascinate You
Compared to countries in Europe, and even in comparison with states in New England, California is pretty young. And a lot of the oldest things and people are found in the northern part of California. However, the oldest place you can visit in this state is not only in one of our most
charming small towns; it just happens to also be the oldest building in Southern California, and it has some fascinating history.
Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1776. The establishment of a mission at this site was authorized in 1775, but plans were abandoned because of unrest among the indigenous people in the region, which included an attack on the mission.
Eventually, led by the Spanish priest and Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra, work began again and the first High Mass was celebrated on November 1, 1776.
Because of its classical Greco-Roman style, architects have nicknamed the Great Stone Church as the “American Acropolis.” Even in ruins, this building is striking in its appearance and the influence of Byzantine cathedrals found in Europe is very clear.
Unlike the rest of the mission buildings which were constructed of adobe bricks, the church was built of stone. This may have led to it being the longest remaining intact building if not for an earthquake in 1812 that nearly destroyed it.
The actual oldest building still in use in California is called “Father Serra’s Church” or “Serra’s Chapel” and was built in 1782. This is the only remaining building where Father Junipero Serra himself celebrated Mass. It is also the only one of the original buildings to remain completely intact, whereas many of the other parts of the mission have deteriorated.
The sanctuary of Serra’s Chapel was enlarged in 1922 but the structure remains and is still used for religious ceremonies today.
The mission complex was self-sustaining. Members - which quickly came to include many indigenous people who converted to Catholicism - lived, worshipped, and worked at the mission. Remains of the olive mill and metal forging furnaces can be observed by visitors to the mission.
Known as the "Catalan Forges," the facility seen here dates back to the 1790s and is the oldest of its kind in the entire state.
The Mission system began to decline when Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. Few actual residents remained at Mission San Juan Capistrano by 1940 and the official “pueblo” or settlement was dissolved shortly thereafter with the mission being declared as being “in a ruinous state.” Eventually, the last remaining residents were granted pieces of land for personal use.
Historically, the mission buildings went through a lot. For example, In addition to the 1812 earthquake that destroyed much of the Great Stone Church, the mission was raided by French pirates in 1818, who took all of the ammunition, valuables, and supplies on the premises, set fire to some straw buildings, and caused minor damage to others. The date of the invasion is memorialized annually as “The Day That Pirates Sacked The Mission.”
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation restoring the Roman Catholic Church as owner of the mission. In the decades that followed, some restoration work was performed and additions were made to the mission complex.
Considered “The Birthplace of Orange County,” and an important piece of Southern California history, the mission is now - in addition to a functioning religious center - a popular museum and historic landmark, recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The oldest building in Southern California really tells a significant story about the history of the Golden State. Have you had the chance to visit
Mission San Juan Capistrano? We would love to hear your stories and experiences in the comments.
OnlyInYourState may earn compensation through affiliate links in this article.
Address: 26801 Old Mission Rd, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675, USA