December 30, 2018

Photo Essay: A Mission for Kings, Friars, Soldiers, and Zorro

Junípero Serra gets all the credit—and blame—for creating the California Missions and all the beauty, violence, and destruction that has surrounded them. He was even canonized.

But there's a "forgotten friar," who founded nine of the 21 Spanish missions in California...

...including the "King of the Missions," Old Mission San Luis Rey (or La Misión de San Luis, Rey de Francia).

Padre Fermín de Francisco Lasuén de Arasqueta, a Basque Franciscan missionary, founded this national historic landmark in 1798, making it the largest of the Spanish missions in Alta California. It was named in honor of King Louis IX of France (as in, St. Louis).

That puts this mission in Oceanside, California after Mission San Fernando Rey de España (c. 1797, in San Fernando) and before the Santa Inés Mission (c. 1804, in Solvang). Father Serra died in 1784.

Like many of the Southern California missions, the San Luis Rey Mission provides a glimpse into the brief period of missionary life along El Camino Real... well as military life, after the missions were secularized and Army soldiers from the Mexican-American War (1846-8) moved into barracks and washed their clothes at the lavanderia.

The oldest part of Mission San Luis Rey is the Carriage Arch, part of the colonnade of the original quadrangle of the mission.

That's where daily life would occur—cooking, converting Native Americans to Christianity, winemaking, getting water out of the well house (above), etc. That's also where you can find California's oldest specimen of the pepper tree (Schinus molle), native to Peru and later renamed the California pepper (though it can't stand up on its own anymore).

The architecture stands out among the missions as well—a composite of influences from the Old World and the New World, the West and the (Middle) East.

While Father Lasuén founded Mission San Luis Rey, it was Father Antonio Peyri of Catalonia, Spain who took on the role of its head missionary at not even 30 years old.

He kept it running until he retired in 1832, when secularization had begun to take its toll and the once-prosperous mission was falling into decline. In 1893, when the U.S. military was done with the mission, Mexican priests were permitted to return and restore the mission—which is why so much more of it remains than some of the other missions (though building materials were scavenged from it to build ranches nearby).

Now, much of the area from the Carriage Arch and beyond the Rose Gardens is used as a retreat center...

...though it's really more of a conference or convention center, with fully-equipped meeting rooms and a tinge of spirituality.

The mission also hosts occasional "quiet days" in the gardens and chapel, with spiritual direction available upon request.

Although the mission does operate as a museum and offer behind the scenes tours, it also still conducts masses, funerals, weddings, and other sacraments.

One of the main attractions is the Mission Church, which is open every day of the year for people who want to pray or meditate.

It's not original to the founding of the mission—this cruciform church was completed in 1815, adorned with a wooden dome and cupola.

The interior decor combines influences from Spain and Native Americans (specifically, the Payómkawichum or "western people" of coastal Southern California). Called the Luiseños (as in, "San Luis") by the Spanish, they were part of the Pauma band of Indians from the Pauma Valley, or the "place where there is water."

Next to the Old Mission Church is the Madonna Chapel, an unusual octagonal room for funeral services (a.k.a. a "mortuary chapel"). Mourners can view from a side altar (a.k.a balcony), accessible by secret passageway.

The cemetery is original to the mission, dating back to 1798 and making it the oldest burial ground in North San Diego County.

And it's still in operation.

Plenty of Franciscans are buried here, including the friars who served the mission... well as early settlers of the area...

...and even some of the Luiseños who helped build and operate the main mission as well as its sub-missions in Pala and Las Flores (now located on the grounds of Camp Pendleton Marine Base).

Upon exiting, take a long last look at the skull and crossbones above the cemetery gate—added by Disney in the 1950s for its production of the Zorro TV series.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Mission San Fernando Rey de España (Updated)
Photo Essay: Past the Mission
Photo Essay: On a Mission in the Santa Ynez Valley
Photo Essay: San Gabriel Mission, Rest In Peace

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