Common Terms of the California Missions

Many words and phrases used during the California mission era are still in use . These include architectural and military terms, religious words and phrases, Native American terms and place names, and of course, the Spanish words for many aspects of everyday life. This glossary provides a handy single reference of these California Mission terms.


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Fact Sheets

A Spanish measure equal to 100 pounds.


Lively regional Spanish dance and its music.


A fanega is approximately 1.575 bushels. For Spanish measurement it is also 12 almundes.


A gathering of people to celebrate an event, such as a Saint’s Day, the anniversary of the mission etc. The Chumash also held fiestas before the arrival of the Europeans. During Chumash fiestas people traded goods and played games, and the village leaders conducted business.


Padres and principal Spanish authorities that first settled Alta California and established the missions.


Member of the Catholic religious order founded by Saint Francis of Assisi in 1209. Franciscans are dedicated to preaching, missionary work and charitable acts.


Member of a mendicant (begging) order, such as the Franciscans. Could be a priest or lay brother. Should only be used with the man’s full name, not with the surname. (Jesuits were not frays.)


A painting laid down on moist lime plaster with color pigments suspended in a liquid medium.


In mission days a frigate was a three-masted sailing ship. In most navies, a frigate is the smallest surface combatant that can conduct extended blue-water missions. The raid on Alta California in 1818 was led by frigate, La Argentina, a 677-ton vessel outfitted with 34 eight- and 12-caliber guns, and carrying a crew of about 260 men.