Great Stone Church, San Juan Capistrano

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26801 Ortega Hwy, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675 (949) 234-1300

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    The Great Stone Church Ruins

    by keida84 Written Apr 19, 2005

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    The Great Stone Church Ruins Mission SJC

    The Great Stone Church stood only six years until December 8, 1812, when a tremendous earthquake shook most of Southern California, from San Luis Obispo to Oceanside. The church bell tower fell into the church, carrying two young bell ringers to their death. Mass had just started when the quake hit and the parishioners panicked, trying to get out the doors which had been twisted in the quake and would not open. Those who followed the priests' directions to go to the sacristy survived, others did not. When the shaking finally stopped, forty people had died. The church was in ruins and was never rebuilt.

    The ruins have been slowly excavated and preserved. The remains are still impressive today.

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    Mission Cemetery

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    This was the original cemetery for the mission. With over 2,000 people are buried here and most of those are in unmarked graves. Most where Native Americans. It started when those 40 faithful where kills during the 1812 Earthquake that collapsed the Great Stone Church. Located on one of the gates to the cemetery is this wonderful informational plaque. It reads:

    According to Father Zephyrin Englehardt, a renowned Franciscan historian who assisted at Mission San Juan Capistrano at various times during the 1910s and 1020s:

    “The burial register of Mission San Juan Capistrano is, replete with interesting data, but we must restrict ourselves to what follows.

    The title page (of the burial register) was drewn up by Father Junipero Serra and but for the word difuntos, the test is like that of the two other books (baptisms and marriages). It has 294 folios for use, as Father Serra remarks, not counting the first and last folio which were to remain blank. It was signed on December 2, 1776 at this Mission, which is evidence that Father Serra passed a month at San Juan Capistrano after its founding.”

    According to Father Engelhardt, the first entry records the death and burial of Sinforosa. The ceremonies were performed by Father Pablo Mugartegui, on July 13, 1777, more than seven months after the founding of the Mission.”

    The mortality at the Mission was very small for the first year, at the close of 1777 only 3 burials had taken place. By the end of the 1788, as many as 201 had been made, nearly one fourth the number of baptisms administered till then.

    Further according to Father Engelhardt, “In the beginning of the year 1806 Father Santiago notes that an epidemic of measles broke out at the Mission. It was the first time since the founding of Mission. The disease was unknown to the Native Americans, but they soon learned that for them it is a veritable plague, hardly less disastrous than the small pox.”

    “At SJC large number of neophytes were carried off during January and February. At the end of the year 1805 the Burial Register contained 1,234 entries. At the end of February, 1806, only two months later, the entries had increased to 1, 367. Accordingly, within this brief space of time 133 deaths occurred. Not all were interred in the cemetery to the rear of the Stone Church. Many died at a distance from the Mission and received burial near their homes. The Fathers, of course, endeavored to reach all of whose illness they received notice.”

    Englehardt, scholars today know that, Fr, Zalvidea made his last entry in the death Register on July 29, 1842. It is number 3,413 and the last for more than four years; for Father Oliva entered the next number 3,414 on October 3, 1846. It is not likely that these years passed without a death at the Mission. (Keep in mind this is the time frame of secularization and private ownership of the Mission by the Forster family.) Probably laymen performed the burials, recited the ordinary prayers, and subsequently forgot to report the death to Father Oliva. The latter most probably blessed the graves in the cemetery when he was informed of the previous burials; but he omitted noting the fact when no names were forthcoming. As the Baptismal Register contains only thirty entries for these four years, made by priests who occasionally visited the place, one may guess the utter abandonment of the once lively Mission.

    Father Engelhardt wrote, “It must be noted here that Father Zalvidea by mistake numbered his last burial entry 4,031 instead of 3,413. The priest who succeeded him, continued this erroneous numbering. The beginning of 1848 brought still deeper gloom to the Mission. The last resident Franciscan died at SJC on January 2, 1848.” Englehardt, O.F.M., Rev. Zephyrin, SJC, The Jewel of the Mission, Los Angels, 1922, PP.195-200.

    There were several surveys conducted to estimated the correct boundaries of the cemetery and Old Mission, but the most important was prepared in 1860 by Henry Hancock for the U.S. Survey General as part of Bishop Joseph S. Alemany’s claim for the return of the Californian Missions property to the Catholic Church. This is reproduced in the Patent of Title signed by President Lincoln and is preserved in the archives a the Mission. A certified copy from the Department of the Interior has also been obtained. The survey is reproduced in Mission San Juan Capistrano, The Fall and Rise of a California Mission, Krekelberg.

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    Founding Document ~1776

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    When I come across a plaque I like to record it by retyping it from its exact content.

    The plaque reads:

    Mission San Juan Capistrano
    With a Translation by Monsignor Vincent Lloyd-Russell
    Va. Jhs Ma. Jph
    The Mission of San Juan Capistrano which is about to be established in the valley of the same name or in its vicinity between the Missions of San Diego San Gabriel of the Earthquakes, about twenty leagues from both & too from the coastline of the South Sea, according to the agreement made between the Captain, Comandante Don Fernando de Riveray Moncada and the Father President of the Missions, Father Junipero Serra, on the thirteenth day of August 1775 by order and instructions of His Excellency the Viceroy of this New Spain, sent on the 24th of May and received on the first of August of the same year.

    Instructions (Arrangements)
    I assigned and named as Ministers and Missionaries for this new Mission: Father Preacher Fray Fermin Francisco Lasuen & Father Preacher Fray Gregorio Amurrio. For the escort the Comandante accepted only two of the four soldiers offered by the Missions, and he added four more from the Presidios. These were: Six Soldiers (leather jackets) and a muleteer named Feliciano. Of the Indians assigned to assist our Religious with their labors in the founding of this Mission, who came with the authority of His Excellency the Viceroy and of their own free will, and who left Baja California with departure of our Missionaries: Two Families of Man and Wife and Four Indian boys unmarried. Regarding provisions, the Comandante, in accordance with my petition, granted: Four tercios of fine flour, Two others of unsifted flour, Three tercios of beans, One tercio of Rice and an order on the granary of San Diego for twenty five fanegas of corn.

    And to please the natives (gentiles) and reciprocate their gifts,
    I gave to Father Lasuens: Four strings of beads of different colors. Concerning the cattle and cows that have just arrived at San Diego from Baja California, I assigned to this Mission:
    Nine milch (chichiguas) cows and a breed bul and a yoke of oxen from San Buenaventrura and moreover I shall take care of their replacement when the desired foundation is realized. Regarding mules and horses, the Fathers of this Mission have been assigned and have received: Eight pack mules, six broken and two unbroken and three saddle mules. Three horses broken and two mares, one of these with its colt.

    Regarding pigs, the Mission of San Diego will give a male and female; regarding chickens, it or San Gabriel will give what they can. The same will give two saddles with their trappings & bridles for Fathers and two others also furnished for the vaqueros. Regarding tools, I gave Father Lasuen:
    Twelve new, large hoes, Two axes for clearing or preparing charcoal, Six large machetes for cleaning up (brush etc.)

    Six new knives, and the branding iron with this mark CR
    For plowshares I have written to the Fathers of San Gabriel that while awaiting their supplies from Mexico they should satisfy their needs from the stores of San Buenaventura, which are kept at that Mission, for pickaxes, plowshares, and other iron tools.

    They have for the Church & Sacristy, a crucifix for the altar; one canvas portrait of more than a vara in length of the Virgin Mary, Domina Pastora, which has a condemned man on her shoulders, which Father Campa used; another canvas portrait, a little more than a third of a vara, of Our Lady of Soledad. Among others, a portrait of the Holy Patron (San Juan Capistrano). About four varas of muslin to make baldachino and backdrop for the Altar. A new Missal with the Saints of our Order. A number of double corporals of fine linen with burse and pall. An Amice of Breton lace, and two purificators of fine linen. A rochet of Bramant linen, with floral design and lace. Castile Wax for Masses for a year. The wine will be furnished from the two nearby missions as their supply allows.
    To this Mission have been allotted all of the ornaments of those that have come from Baja California for the Church as well as the houses; also within those ornaments will be found those for the use of the other two Ministers, and the two Fathers, (Juan) Prestamero and Imas.

    For the celebration fo Mass, the Mission of San Diego will give a chalice, which up to the present day has had no other use but to serve travelers; and from the Mission of San Buenaventura, the Fathers of San Gabriel will give a vestment of various colors. In the meantime also from there, the oils, surplice, Ritual, Baptismal shell and all the other requisites and a Bell.
    The Mission of San Anionio has given tow blank books bound in red leather for entries.

    With these beginnings & arrangements, Father Fermin left this Mission of San carlos de Monterey on the 21 of August 1775 in order to join with his Religious companion in the Mission of San Luis Obispo, May God bless them. Amen.

    Father Junipero Serra

    Presented by the riders of El Viaje de Portaola. April 2, 1976~

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    Great Stone Church

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    The Great Stone Church construction started in 1797 that took nine years to build. It was 180 feet long, five stories high at the sanctuary and was topped with seven stone domes and a bell tower. A tribute to their faith. Sadly in 1812 an earthquake struck destroying it and killing 40 faithful followers. The church was never reconstructed. Another was built in 1788 called Serra Chapel and is still in service. Not as grand, but just as beautiful. The Great Stone Church was stabilized in 2004 to keep it from crumbling anymore.

    It is neat to be able to walk up to it and touch it. There is not much left, but to see it in person and if you have some good imagination, what a impressive structure it must have been during its day.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Mission Industrial Center

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    During a 1930's excavation they found the tallow vats where the Natives made soap, candles, grease and ointments from the animal fat. Other vats were used for dyeing wool. The Catalan furnaces or some of the oldest metal furnaces in California. There is also a kitchen in this area where the Juanenos cooked their food.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    The Leon Rene Music Room

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    This was neat to learn and see the actual sheet music signed by Leon Rene and the piano he used to play when he composed in 1939 "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano". It's in a room, but with a glass door so you can see in.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Central Courtyard

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    This was known as the Plaza and was the central area of the missions activities. Three water channels ran through the mission grounds and under the west wing into the Industrial Area. Fr. O'Sullivan built the Morrish style fountain and dedicated to the Four Evangelist, and planted most of the trees in the 1920's. This is a favorite place the Mission has special events such as concerts and weddings receptions.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Peruvian Cactus Tree with Bloom

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    They have these lovely cactus along the wall of the mission. I was lucky enough to be able to get a photo of one. Called a Peruvian Cactus Tree that sometimes have these little purple fruit "pitaya" at certain times of the years, plus they can get 10 meters (33 ft) in height and 10-20 cm in diameter. They have this very beautiful nocturnal flowers that remain open for only one night.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    The Serra Chapel

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    It was built in 1788 to replace the Great Stone Church that collapsed in 1812 from an earthquake. It is the oldest church in California that is still in service. When Father O'Sullivan came to the rescue of the missions, he had this restored in 1910-1933. The gorgeous Baroque altar is from Barcelona Spain and is made of hand carved wood with a a gold lear overlay. It is estimated to be over 400 years old. The side chapel is dedicated to S. Peregrine, a patron saint of sufferers. Near the entry is the original baptismal font that once stood in the Great Stone Church.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    San Juan Capistrano Historic Downtown

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    This area has a very extensive historical area that dates back to the time of the Mission era. One of oldest areas is the Los Rios Historical District that dates from Spanish era to Statehood. There are 31 historical structures which lie along Los Rios Street, Del Obispo and Mission Streets. There are at least three adobe homes that date back to 1794 and others date from 1887 to 1910. Check out the map that is a PDF file and take a stroll through history and maybe do some shopping too.

    The one photo below is the Garcia Adobe which is the only two story adobe in SJC. The exterior walls are over three feet thick. The second floor was added around 1880 and a Monterey style balcony was added.

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    San Juan Capistrano California Landmark #200

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    The marker reads:
    NO. 200 MISSION SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO - Founded in 1776 by Padre Junípero Serra, this is the seventh in the chain of 21 missions established in Alta California to christianize and civilize the Indians. The stone church was destroyed in 1812 earthquake. Expropriated during Mexican rule, the mission was returned to the Catholic church in 1865 by proclamation of President Abraham Lincoln.

    Listed on the National Register of Historic Places: NPS-71000170

    The other historical marker reads:
    Historic Site
    Mission San Juan Capistrano
    "Jewel of the Missions" founded on November 1, 1776 by Father Junipero Serra, most renown and most beautiful of the California Missions. Quaint little Serra Chapel is California's oldest building still in use. The magnificent ruins of the Great Stone Church are considered the "American Acropolis".

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Soldiers Barracks ~ Museum

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    These were built in 1791 to house four to six Spanish soldiers that were left behind to help guard the mission. These building were later used as a blacksmith and stables when the mission was sold to Ranches (1845-1865). Now they house some really wonderful museum pieces.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Olive Millstone

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    This stone purpose was to crush olives for oil, which had many usage at the missions for cooking and trading goods. It was powered by either a Native boy or donkey.

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Father Serra and Indian Boy Statue

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    The plaque reads:
    To the memory of Fray Junipero Serra
    Apostle of California, First Father-Presidente of the California Mission and Founder of this Mission of San Juan Capistrano. This statue dedicated in his honor Nov.24, 1914, the Two Hundred and First Anniversary of his birth. (Then it reads this again in Spanish)

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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    Sacred Garden and Bell Wall

    by Yaqui Updated Nov 14, 2010

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    From the front courtyard
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    The mission bells were always essential to missionary life and that of its surrounding community. When the bells rung, it was for births, marriages, mealtimes, work, religious functions, ships, or returning missionaries. The bells hung from a tree before the chapel could be built. They were even buried by the soldiers and Padres to protect them after word that the mission in San Diego had been attacked and its Padre killed. They were ordered to leave for the Fort in San Diego for their protection. Then a year later they returned and dug them up and rededicated them once the Great Stone Church was built.

    The largest were recast from the original 1796 that hung in the Great Stone Church and the smallest are original from 1804. It's not know what happened to the original bells.

    The Sacred Garden was added in the 1920's and seem befitting since it frames the bells.

    Four of Mission San Juan Capistrano's bells have inscriptions: The largest to the smallest; read as translated from Spanish:
    "Praised by Jesus, San Vicente. In honor of the Reverend Fathers, Ministers, Fray Vicente Fustér, and Fray Juan Santiago, 1796."
    "Hail Mary most pure. Ruelas made me, and I am called San Juan, 1796."
    "Hail Mary most pure, San Antonio, 1804."
    "Hail Mary most pure, San Rafael, 1804." (Inscription Info from Engelhardt 1922, p. 242)

    Open Daily: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
    Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
    Closed at noon Good Friday and Christmas Eve.

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