Mission San Luis Rey

by Wendy VanHatten

Discover history of California Missions with a visit to Mission San Luis Rey in Oceanside, California.

First some history:

Father Fermin Lasuen, successor to Father Junipero Serra, founded Mission San Luis Rey in 1798. This was the 18th mission in the chain of 21 missions in Alta California.

Mission San Luis Rey was named after King Louis IX of France, a 13th century king known for his compassion for the poor.

Prior to Spanish occupation, the Luiseno people inhabited this area for hundreds of years. Luiseno homes were dome-shaped, using a branch frame. The chief and shaman made and upheld the laws of the village. The men hunted and fished and the women gathered plants and food. Pestles for grinding were made as were baskets.

Missions were not authorized until the threat of Russian encroachment into the area in Alta California. Spain had learned to claim land by establishing a mission and sending dedicated padres with a few soldiers. The Mission San Luis Rey became home to over 3,000 Indians, 50,000 head of livestock, and large land cultivation. Grapes, oranges, olives, wheat, and corn were irrigated by water channeled from a nearby river. By 1830, the Mission was the largest building in California.

Throughout the years Mission San Luis Rey flourished and then decayed. In 1892 a group of Franciscans from Zacatecas, Mexico sought refuge at the Mission. From 1892 to 1912 the church, living quarters, the quadrangle, and barracks were rebuilt. This Mission restoration and preservation is an ongoing process and archaeological investigators continue to unearth the Mission’s past.

Some other quick facts:

  • There were eight bells in the church
  • There are now four bells in the church
  • The timber used for the beams and roof came from Mt. Palomar via ox carts
  • The oldest pepper tree in California is in the quadrangle
  • The cemetery is the oldest burial ground in north San Diego county still in operation
  • In the 1950s Walt Disney Studio filmed part of the movie “Zorro” in front of the gates

We spent a morning taking the self-guided tour of Mission San Luis Rey. The period rooms portrayed life as it was throughout history. Ranging from the lifestyle of the Luiseno Indians to the Friars’ bedrooms to the Mission kitchen to way the Mission San Luis Rey is today. The original Lincoln Document which returned the Mission to the Church is included in one room.

Entering through the front doors of the Historic Mission Church, we first noticed the Spanish Colonial architecture. Both Baroque and Classical styles were represented throughout. Paintings and decorations showed the combination of Spanish and Indian cultures.

Wandering through the cemetery we noticed grave markers dating as far back as 1800 and up to 2020. The ruins of the adobe barracks that once housed Spanish soldiers assigned to protect the Mission San Luis Rey are well preserved.

Not to be missed is the oldest pepper tree in California. Even from the gates of the courtyard, this tree is impressive.

When you want a glimpse of life in a Mission, understand how Missions affected California history, and discover the rich history surrounding a National Historic Landmark take some time to visit Mission San Luis Rey.

If You Go: Mission San Luis Rey is located at 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside, CA. Visit www.sanluisrey.org for more information