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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A mayordomo served as a custodian of civic property, also a foreman of a hacienda or mission. An overseer.

Mendicant Order

Religious organizations which have renounced all common and personal property. Thus, members are dependent upon begging in order to survive.

Merced de Tierra

Land grant.


Mixed-blood of European and Indian ancestry.


A flat slab of rock used to grind seeds, nuts and plant foods into flour.

Mexican-American War

Armed conflict between the United States and Mexico that lasted from 1846 to 1848. Led to annexation of 58 percent of Mexican territory including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.


The word from which the term Chumash originated. It refers to those people who lived on Santa Cruz Island.


A plot of land, grain field, or corn field.

Mission Vieja

Literally means Old Mission. This is the term used for the first site of Mission La Purísima Concepcíon which was destroyed by the earthquake of 1812.

Missionary College

Franciscan institutions established to receive and train priests for service in the missions. The missions of Alta California were sponsored by the College of San Fernando founded in 1734 in Mexico City.


A grist-mill.


Woman’s quarters.