Mission San Juan Bautista in central California is a treasure for history buffs like me. The mission was built in 1797 as part of a string of missions stretched from Baja California to San Francisco. The missions were built a day’s ride apart on the El Camino Real, the King’s Highway. Most of the missions have been surrounded now by urban life but the town square around San Juan Bautista was preserved in addition to the mission. San Juan Bautista is the largest mission in the chain of missions.
The missions were started by Spanish Franciscan friar Father Junipero Serra. In more recent years there has been a lot of controversy around the history of the missions and of Father Serra. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 25, 1988 and canonized by Pope Francis on September 23, 2015. To others, Serra was a villain because he or perhaps the soldiers associated with the mission oppressed the native people of the region. San Juan Bautista was founded by Father Lasuen who took over the project after Father Serra.
There is no question that the native population lost around 90% of its numbers in this time period, although that was true elsewhere in North America primarily because of the diseases brought from the old world.
The original name of the mission was La MisiÃ³n del Glorios Precursor de Jesu Cristo, Nuestro SeÃ±or San Juan Bautista (The Mission of the Glorious Precursor of Jesus Christ, Our Lord Saint John the Baptist).
Surrounding the town plaza you will find a hotel, livery stable, old jail, and plaza hall. The livery stable holds of collection of old carriages and wagons.
If the mission looks familiar it might be because you, like me, came here on a field trip as a kid. But more likely you recognize it from the 1958 Hitchcock film Vertigo.
If you take your kids to see the mission make sure to look to your right as you face the mission. The steep slope immediately to the mission’s right is the San Andreas Fault. Needless to say, the mission has been damaged by earthquakes over the years but its thick adobe walls still stand.
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