San Juan Bautista

San Juan Bautista Key Facts

San Juan Bautista was founded on June 24, 1797. This mission sits on the edge of the only remaining Spanish Plaza in California. Mission San Juan Bautista’s historic church (built in 1812), well-landscaped grounds and setting offers a unique opportunity to see and appreciate the California of two centuries ago.

General Information

San Juan Bautista

Founded:
June 24, 1797
Also Called:
La Misión del Glorioso Precursor de Jesu Cristo, Nuestro Señor San Juan Bautista
Current Status:
Active Catholic church since 1797, now under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey. The existing adobe church has seen continuous use since 1812.
Summary:
San Juan Bautista was founded on June 24, 1797. This mission sits on the edge of the only remaining Spanish Plaza in California. Mission San Juan Bautista’s historic church (built in 1812), well-landscaped grounds and setting offers a unique opportunity to see and appreciate the California of two centuries ago.

Key Facts About This Mission

Named For

St. John the Baptist

Founding Father President
Fr. Lasuen
Fr. Lasuėn Statue

Fr. Fermín Francisco de Lasuėn  

Founding Missionaries

Frs. Pedro Martínez and José Martiarena

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Fr. Felipe del Arroyo de la Cuesta served as head padre for 25 years. He was a self-sacrificing missionary, inspired leader, scholar, linguist, ingenious inventor, clock maker and a talented singer and composer with a cheerful, witty, and engaging personality. His many contributions, made despite a crippling long-term illness, have been described as nothing less than heroic.

Indians Joining Mission

The mission was founded near the village of Popeloutchom in the land of the Mutsun tribelet of the Coastanoan people. Its location at the crossroads of El Camino Real (Royal Road) and El Camino Viejo (Old Road) at Pacheeo Pass drew Yokuts to the mission in significant numbers in the 1820s. 

The Amah Mutsun descendants of the San Juaneros, or mission neophytes, have engaged in a decades-long struggle for Federal recognition of their tribal status. 

 

Mission Site

Located on the main plaza in the town that developed around the mission, some 90 miles southeast of San Francisco.

Layout

Traditional quadrangle. The mission vineyard was one mile southeast of the Church. 

Water Source

Ample water was channeled from El Río del Pájaro to the mission and its orchards, vineyards, gardens and fulling mill (1818) via a system of zanjas or earthen canals. A deep pozo, or rock-lined well, was the primary source of drinking water.

Population

Highest recorded was 1,248 in 1823.

Livestock
San Juan Bautista Cattle Brand
San Juan Bautista Cattle Brand

In 1832 the mission reported a livestock herd of 6,000 cattle, 6004 sheep, 20 swine, 296 horses, and 13 mules on its various ranches. Some 50 head of cattle were slaughtered weekly in order to feed the mission community. 

Agricultural Output

Total agricultural output between 1798 and 1832 was over 90,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, and peas. 

Mission Church

The present church was dedicated on June 23, 1812, and replaced the much smaller adobe chapel of 1797-98, built by Ygnacio Barrera, Second Carpenter of the frigate Concepción.

In 1818 Anglo-American carpenter Felipe Santiago (Thomas Doak), the earliest American settler in California, painted (and very likely constructed) the main altar reredos after a design by Fr. Estevan Tapis.

Mission Bells

The church did not include a bell tower in the mission era. Two bells were hung from a wooden bell rack. 

A two-tiered campanario with three bell openings was added during a 1976 restoration. One of the bells is original.

 

Mission Art

The 1818 main altar reredos (altar screen) and bultos (sculptures of saints) remain largely un-restored. 

Historic Pulpit
Historic Pulpit

The church ambo or pulpit, which has a sounding board mounted overhead, was installed shortly after 1812-13. 

In 1820 the church acquired the largest and most complete collection of apostolate paintings in the mission chain. 

Secularized

1835

Year Returned to Catholic Church

1859, by U.S. President James Buchanan.

Interesting Facts
Fr. Esteban Tapis
Fr. Estevan Tapis

San Juan Bautista had a renowned Indian boys choir developed by Fr. Estevan Tapis who retired to this mission after serving nine years as Father-President. 

You can see part of the original El Camino Real (Royal Road) just beyond the walls of the mission cemetery; the road is situated atop an escarpment of the great rift of the San Andreas Fault. 

Each December 21st and/or 22nd the mission church is opened to the public for the annual midwinter solstice illumination of the main altar.

The mission was the setting for Alfred Hitchcock's 1957 production of the movie Vertigo starring James Stewart, Kim Novak, and Barbara Bel Geddes.

Additional Information
  • Draper, A.S. (2000). Mission of San Juan Bautista. (PowerKids Press series on the Missions of California) 
  • Clough, C.W. (1995). San Juan Bautista: The Town, the Mission and the Park. Word Dancer Press.
  • Engelhardt, Fr. Zephrin, Mission San Juan Bautista: A School of Church Music, Santa Barbara, California: 1931. (The definitive early history of the mission)

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