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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Ornamental receptacle placed in the center of the altar and used to hold consecrated wafers.


Spanish term for jerked beef which was used extensively at the missions.


Spanish word for an Indian sweathouse, used exclusively by men for both religious and non-religious purposes.


Matters pertaining to the non-religious aspects of the mission: Feeding, clothing and housing of the Indians; development of agriculture; teaching of trades and skills.


A wedding witness.

Third Order of St. Francis

Organization of lay people who emulate and follow the teachings of St. Francis, but who do not give up marriage or worldly possessions.


The tiles used at the mission were made on the premises from clay shaped over log molds, and then fired in a kiln.


Milkweed fiber used to make strings for a bow.


Plank canoe made by the Chumash Indians.


That part of a cruciform church that crosses at right angles between the nave and the apse.

Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo

The 1848 agreement between Mexico and the United States that ended the Mexican War, and ceded 58 percent of Mexican territory, including Alta California, to the United States.


A society consisting of several communities united by kinship, culture, language and other social institutions.