4050 Mission Ave, Oceanside, CA 92057
June 13, 1798
St. Louis, King of France.
Fr. Fermín de Lasuén.
Quechnajuichom (Luiseño), Kumeyaay (Diegueño),
Goods produced: Wheat, barley, corn, beans.
Large adobe and ladrillo (brick) church and bell tower with blue cupola. Octagonal chapel inside church.
Roman Catholic parish and retreat center.
Historical landmark number:
California Historical Landmark no. 239; National Historical Landmark
System of fountains
Mission San Luis Rey had an elaborate system for bringing and sharing water where needed. The mission’s lavandería area on the church’s south side offered drinking water, a bathing area and washing facilities. Running water drawn from far away via aqueducts flowed into the area, and the spouts/gargoyles that fed twin pools were fashioned after faces reminiscent of Aztec/Mayan stonework. Water was also channeled into gardens and orchards where fruits and vegetables were grown. An adobe wall with an arched and pillared gateway surrounded all of this.
Built to Resist Earthquakes
In 1812 an earthquake damaged several missions in California, including San Juan Capistrano. The earthquake caused the bell tower at San Juan Capistrano to crash into the church, killing dozens of people. At the time, Mission San Luis Rey was still under construction. Fearing that a similar accident could happen at San Luis Rey, the builders decided to eliminate the stairway in the east bell tower and fill the space with adobe brick. The west tower was left without a domed cupola. Instead, an outside stairway was built to the second floor of the east tower, giving access to the choir loft and then the east tower.
An Original Sombrero
The Franciscan padres at the California missions were known for wearing grey woolen robes, made famous by St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan religious order. But in California, they also wore broad-brimmed sombreros to protect them from the sun. The Mission San Luis Rey museum maintains one of only two original sombreros worn by the padres.
California’s Native Ethnographer
Mission San Luis Rey was the home of Pablo Tac, a Luiseño Indian born in 1822. In 1832, Tac and his friend Agapito Amamix embarked on a voyage to Europe to train to become Catholic priests. Accompanied by Fr. Antonio Peyrí, they first traveled to Mexico City before reaching Rome the following year. During their time in Rome, Pablo documented the life and customs of his people. He described pre-Spanish era stories and daily life at the mission and even produced a grammar of the Luiseño language, the first native grammar written by an indigenous person.
Unfortunately, Pablo died young, likely due to an epidemic that hit Rome in 1841. His writings hold great value as they provide insights into the early days of the missions from the perspective of a native individual. Today a portion of the mission church building is dedicated to Pablo and his friend Agapito.
The Most Prosperous Mission
When Pablo and Agapito left Mission San Luis Rey in 1832, it was the most prosperous of the California missions. 2,788 native people were living at the mission and its ranchos (known as asistencias[link]). There were over 27,500 cattle, 2,600 sheep, and almost 2,000 horses. There were several large gardens, orchards and vineyards. Many of the children attended school, where they learned to read, write, play musical instruments, and sing. Not long afterward, the mission was secularized and fell into a period of decline.
California’s last Mexican governor, Pío Pico, was the administrator of Mission San Luis Rey between 1835 and 1840. Pico was not a popular figure among the native people whom he oversaw. According to author Carlos Salomon, “Within six months of his arrival, complaints against Pico began to mount. Aside from grazing his cattle in Temecula and his harsh treatment, he was also accused of squandering mission funds.” In 1836, the Luiseños organized a protest against Pico, but Pico had their leader, Pablo Apis, arrested. Pico remained the administrator of San Luis Rey until 1840 when he was removed by order of Governor Juan Bautista Alvarado. In 1845, Pío Pico became governor of Alta California and remained in office until the U.S. Takeover in 1846.
Pío Pico: Last Governor of Mexican California, by Carlos Salomon
After the American takeover, one of the alcades at San Luis Rey was trapper and explorer Jean Baptiste Charbonneau. Charbonneau was the son of Sacagawea, a Shoshone from what is today Idaho, who helped guide the Lewis and Clark expedition. His father was French Canadian trapper Toussaint Charbonneau, but the young Charbonneau was partly raised by William Clark, who provided for his schooling.
Charbonneau served as a guide for the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War and was appointed as Alcalde of Mission San Luis Rey in November of 1847 by military governor Richard B. Mason.
Charboneau was Alcalde for less than a year. According to author June Reading, “he resigned and claimed that because of his Indian heritage, others thought him biased when problems arose between the Indians and the other inhabitants of the district.” After leaving San Luis Rey, Charbonneau traveled north to seek gold.
Mexican Padres Return
In the 1880s, Mission San Luis Rey was in complete ruins. Although an elderly Luiseño alcalde guarded the church, the sacristy roof had fallen in, and the chapel domes had collapsed. There had been no resident priest since 1846. But in 1892, Franciscan friars returned. They were from Mexico, from the College of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Zacatecas, which had supplied friars to California during Mexican rule. Soon the mission began to be restored under the direction of a friar from Santa Barbara known as Joseph Jeremiah O’Keefe. Although the Zacatecan friars began returning to Mexico in 1903, major restoration continued until 1914.
In the late 1950s, some episodes of the television series Zorro were filmed at Mission San Luis Rey. Zorro, Spanish for “fox,” is the story of a masked rider who battles the unjust rulers of the pueblo of Los Angeles during the days of Spanish rule. His real identity is that of Don Diego de la Vega, the son of a wealthy landowner. Guy Williams played two roles in the series: Don Diego de la Vega, the wealthy landowner’s son, and Zorro, his secret identity who fought against injustice and oppression. In this video, Mission San Luis Rey plays the role of Mission San Gabriel:
- 1815: Present church completed.
- January 17, 1832: Fr. Antonio Peyrí leaves for Rome with Pablo Tac and Agapito Amamix, two Luiseño boys who will study for the priesthood.
- 1846: U.S. Army scout Kit Carson, together with General Kearny and his soldiers, camp on the mission grounds.
- 1865: President Lincoln signs a proclamation restoring the mission to the Bishop of Los Angeles.