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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Native Americans

The indigenous people living in a land. The Indian natives of Alta California lived in the area for several thousand years before the arrival of the Europeans.


The principal interior of a church, where the congregation worships.


Indians who were converted to Christianity and then lived at a mission.

New Spain

Present day Mexico, with its headquarters in Mexico City.


A recess designed to hold a statue. Can be free standing, or part of a reredo.


Religious house where beginners (novices) are trained before taking permanent vows.