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.


A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | V | W | Y | Z

Cowboy, cattle hand.


Spanish yard of about 33 inches. It was equivalent to 2.7424 feet in colonial California.

Vicar Forane

Ecclesiastical official appointed by a bishop and having limited jurisdiction over a portion of a diocese.

Vicar General

Priest deputized to assist the bishop with ordinary jurisdiction of an entire diocese.


Officials who were appointed by the King of Spain for one year at a time, and who were held responsible for civil, religious and military affairs within vast overseas dominions. The missions in Alta California were under the authority of the Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) located in Mexico City.


Ceiling beams, used as the primary support for the roof of a building.


Another term for vineyard.


Friar appointed by the General of an Order to conduct a formal inspection of a province or apostolic college.