Mission San Luis Obispo

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Key Facts

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded on September 1, 1772.  The mission church was built in 1792-1794. The former convento (now a museum)  has a distinctive front colonnade. The museum has a special room that focuses on the Chumash Indians. A large modern plaza in front of Mission San Luis Obispo is a popular site for community events.

General Information

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Founded:
September 1, 1772
Also Called:
Mission San Luis Obispo
Current Status:
Central parish church for the city of San Luis Obispo.
Summary:
San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded on September 1, 1772.  The mission church was built in 1792-1794. The former convento (now a museum)  has a distinctive front colonnade. The museum has a special room that focuses on the Chumash Indians. A large modern plaza in front of Mission San Luis Obispo is a popular site for community events.

Key Facts About This Mission

Named For

St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, France, a 14th century Franciscan

Founding Father President

Fr. JuníperoFr. Junípero Serra 

Founding Missionaries

Fr. José Cavaller

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Fr. Luis Antonio Martínez, a jovial and generous man and effective manager, led the mission for thirty-four years.

Indians Joining Mission

Mural of Chumash Indian Village San Luis Obispo was the first mission founded in the land of the Chumash people. The neophytes at the mission were called Obispeños. 

Mission Site

Native Californians lassoing a bear Located in a spacious valley along the central coast which the Spanish named "La Cañada de los Osos" (Valley of the Bears) when they discovered many grizzlies there. In the mission era bear hunting by “Californios” was prevalent. 

Unlike many of the missions, which were relocated over time, San Luis Obispo stands on its original site.

Layout

Traditional quadrangle

Water Source

San Luis Obispo Creek, which was described as "having the finest water."

Population

Highest recorded population was 832 in 1804.

Livestock

San Luis Obispo Cattle Brand San Luis Obispo had a relatively stable livestock herd during its last twenty years as a mission, with twice as many sheep as cattle in most years. 1832, the last year for which we have detailed records, the mission had 2,500 cattle and 5,422 sheep. 

Agricultural Output

Over the years 1804 - 1832 San Luis Obispo produced 167,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, and lentils. Despite its relatively small population, it had the fourth highest production of wheat in the entire chain. The mission even had its own grist mill. 

 

San Luis Obispo had grape arbors within the mission quadrangle and there was a garden in the northeast corner.

Mission Church

San Luis Obispo The San Luis Obispo church was built in 1792-94. The vestibule was added in 1820. The prominent numbers inscribed on the church facade refer to the year the mission was founded in 1772. 

Padres quarters with rounded colonnade The former convento (which now contains a museum and gift shop) has a distinctive front colonnade of eleven round columns set on square pedestals.

San Luis Obispo Steeple A New England-style steeple was added to the church in 1868 but removed in 1934.

Mission Bells

There are three bells suspended in the church facade.

Mission Art

The most significant devotional art is in an alcove on the right-hand side of the church, where an illuminated painting of Our Lady of Refuge may be seen. The alcove was once the entrance to the funerary chapel, which led out onto the mission cemetery

Significant Event(s)

In 1776 a pagan Indian fired an arrow, with a burning wick attached, into one of the dry thatched roofs of San Luis Obispo. This started a fire that nearly destroyed several buildings. This disaster led to experimentation to make tile locally. By 1790 most of the missions had tile roofs that were not as vulnerable to attack.

Secularized

1835

Year Returned to Catholic Church

1859

Interesting Facts

The mission had an active life of sixty-three years.

A statue of a grizzly bear in the plaza celebrates the original discovery of "La Cañada de los Osos" (Valley of the Bears) by the Portola expedition as they returned to San Diego from a failed attempt to find Monterey in December 1769.

A long secondary nave to the right of the altar forms an L-shaped church plan, the only one of its kind in the California missions.

The combination vestibule and belfry at the front facade of the mission, while somewhat similar to that in San Antonio de Padua, is unique among the California missions.

The large plaza in front of the church was dedicated in 1970.

Additional Information
  • Edgar, K.J. (2000). Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
    (PowerKids Press, Missions of California Series) 
  • Kocher, P.H. (1972). Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa 177201972: A Historical Sketch.
     

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