I love honesty in advertising! When a place as historically famous as Mission San Juan Capistrano tells you it’s “Worth a Visit”, it’s not only a believable claim but likely one of the most understated in all of California. Founded in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, San Juan Capistrano is one of a string of missions in the state and home to the state’s oldest surviving buildings. This is a much beloved place and is known as “The Jewel of the Missions” because of its beauty. Despite severe earthquake damage in 1812, which collapsed the roof of the Great Stone Church (still in ruins) and killed 40 people, Capistrano has endured and still functions as an active church. It was founded to serve the native people, training them in agriculture and, of course, converting them to Christianity. At its peak, the mission had a population of almost 1400 people.
The mission is situated in southern greater Los Angeles (Orange Co) almost half way between downtown Los Angeles and San Diego. It is very easily accessed from the freeway system. There’s a modest admission fee and you can take self-directed, audio-taped, or guided tours (information provided as you enter).
Your visit to the Mission begins in its outer courtyard/garden area which has a nice variety of trees, bushes, flowers and fountains. To the right you find a statue of Father Serra, four mission bells (which survived the earthquake) and the ruins of the Great Stone Church. You can walk around most of the grounds and building complex and tour the old garden and wine making area, the beautifully landscaped inner courtyard, Serra’s church (the oldest church in California and previously discussed), and a variety of theme oriented displays.
To some extent the Mission is famous for of the return of its migratory swallows each spring on St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th). While a century ago this was a regular event in recent years not many swallows have returned to the mission. Seems swallows like to build their nests on newer buildings, of which thousands can now be found in the neighboring hills. Attempts are being made to lure the swallows back but with limited luck.
The “mission grape,” was planted at San Juan Capistrano in 1779; in 1783, the first wine produced in California was fermented in the Mission’s winery. Today the state of California is world famous for its quality, variety and quantity of wine, so this was a historic first step the mission is not often recognized for. The Mission entered a period of decline in the 19th century, but with the arrival of Father O’Sullivan in 1910, it experienced a period of much needed restoration and rejuvenation. In 1984, a modern church complex was constructed just north and west of the Mission compound and is now known as Mission Basilica San Juan Capistrano.
About half-a-million visitors, including 80,000 school children, come to the Mission each year. It is a very recommended travel destination.
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