What Are Some Facts About Mission San Juan Capistrano?

Franciscan priests founded Mission San Juan Capistrano to expand Spanish influence in the area and convert indigenous peoples to Christianity. When Mexico became independent, the local governor sold the mission to a private family, but after California became a state, President Abraham Lincoln returned the mission to the Catholic Church.

Father Fermin Lasuen first attempted to found the mission in 1775, but after hearing of an Indian uprising in San Diego, the priests buried the mission bells and abandoned the site. Father Junipero Serra recovered the bells and officially founded the mission on Nov. 1, 1776. When the local Indians, the Juaneno, helped to construct the church and other buildings, the priests actively proselytized to them. Indians who became baptized were obliged to change their names and social customs, learn the Spanish language and Catholic doctrine, and follow strict rules imposed by the priests, including not leaving the mission without permission. By 1806, the mission was flourishing and had over 1,000 inhabitants. After that period of time, the mission began to decline.

In 1812, an earthquake destroyed the mission's stone church. In 1845, the Mexican governor sold the mission to his brother-in-law, John Forster, and it was used as a ranch. California became a state in 1850, and in 1865, Lincoln signed a document ceding ownership back to the Catholic Church. Throughout the 20th century it underwent extensive restoration. A museum and church are on the site as of 2015, and many visitors come to see the annual migration of the Capistrano swallows.