San Juan CapistranoApprox. Time: 2 hours
Activity Level: Easy to Moderate

Mission San Juan Capistrano, the Birthplace of Orange County, was founded more than two hundred years ago. Today it is a monument to California' multi-cultural history, embracing its Native American, Spanish, Mexican and European heritage.

Mission San Juan Capistrano is the seventh mission founded November 1, 1776 by Fr. Junipero Serra. Previously established by Fr. Fermin Lasuen October 30, 1775, but abandoned because of Indian unrest at Mission San Diego. Named for St. John of Capistrano, Italy, a theologian and inquisitor of the 14th century. The Great Stone Church begun 1796; competed 1806; destroyed by earthquake 1812. Mission secularized 1833, sold 1845, and returned to Church 1865.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded twice. In October of 1775, Father Lasuen left San Diego with eleven soldiers to establish a mission roughly halfway between the San Diego Mission and San Gabriel Mission. On October 30, 1775, a large cross was set up and Fr. Lasuen took formal possession of the land in the name of the crown and dedicated the ground. A number of Indians watched and helped to haul timber for the building of a temporary chapel and dwellings. The work went on for eight days, but came to a halt when word reached the Spaniards that the San Diego Mission had suffered an Indian attack. The bells were hastily buried and the small party hurried south to take shelter in the Mission at San Diego.

After a year's delay, an expedition led by Father Junipero Serra, arrived at the same site October 31, 1776, with two padres and an escort of soldiers. The following day, November 1, 1776, the mission was officially dedicated.

Once established, the mission prospered almost from the start. Between the founding and 1797 a number of adobe buildings were erected. In 1777, the first little church was built, a modest structure that is still in use today. Considered the oldest church in California, it is called the "Serra Chapel" because it is the only building still standing where Fr. Serra had said Mass.