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Navigation for San Juan Bautista:

Mission San Juan Bautista

In Brief

Founded: 24 June 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: Saint John the Baptist
Number in Series: 15th
Indian Name: Popelout, or Popeloutchom
Brand: San Juan Bautista Brand


Spring 1797: Spanish Corporal Juan Ballesteros and five men arrived at the future mission site. They built a chapel, granary, and houses for the padres and themselves.

24 June 1797: Padre Lasuén arrived to dedicate the mission.

+2 Weeks: The first baptism of a 10 year old Indian boy took place. Corporal Ballesteros was the sponsor. Later a son of the Corporal was the first white baptism at the mission.

September 1797: The first funeral took place at the mission; an infant son of the Corporal.

October 1798: Ground shaking at the mission was bad enough that the missionaries slept outside for the entire month. Earthquakes occurred up to six times per day. As it turns out, the mission was built directly atop the San Andreas earthquake fault. This resulted in cracks in the mission walls and, sometimes, even in the ground.

October 1800: The original church was destroyed by an earthquake. Work began to enlarge the church and add facilities.

1803: The parish was growing fast and a much larger church was needed. The construction work started with a ceremony and dedication. The story of this event was placed in a bottle in the cornerstone. That cornerstone was laid in June.

1808: Padre Arroyo de la Cuesta arrived at the mission. His vision was to build a large church. Mission churches generally are long and narrow with a single center aisle. To hold a thousand churchgoers, the design of the new church was modified to be wide, with three aisles, and a size of 72 by 188 feet. The adobe walls were three-feet thick.

Padre de la Cuesta was able to preach in seven of the Native American dialects and eventually created a dictionary-like document for the native languages.

23 June 1812: The new church was completed and dedicated. It was the only structure like it built by Franciscans in California. Unfortunately, the congregation declined during construction. Given the smaller congregation and continued danger from earthquakes Padre de la Cuesta caused the open-arched walls to be filled in. This made the structure more sound during quakes and gave the church two large, separate rooms (the two outside naves).

Also in 1812, Padre Estévan Tápis, Father Presidente of the missions since 1803, retired and came to the mission. He was adept in music and developed a technique of using colored notes to aid the natives in learning. He started a famous choir of Native American boys that performed for many.

1816: A Boston sailor named Thomas Doak is said to have jumped ship in Monterey. He is thus credited with being the first Anglo-American California resident. In 1820 he came to the mission and, for room and board, decorated much of the interior of the church. Original tiles are still on the floor and the original colors still shine.

1825: Padre Tápis dies at 71 years of age. He is buried by the altar in the church.

1829: Padre de la Cuesta (also often known as Padre Arroyo) reported receipt of an "órgano de 3 cilindros." The barrel organ spawned a number of legends and still exists at the mission.

1833: Padre de la Cuesta turned the mission over to the Zacatecan Franciscans. He moved to Santa Inés until his death in 1840. (Note: References differ on location but the Santa Inés burial records show he is buried there.)

1835: The mission became secularized, but continued to serve as the local parish church. Services have been held there continuously.

1839: The new pueblo became the town of San Juan Bautista.

19 November 1859: President James Buchanan returned the mission to the Church.

1865: Belfry constructed.

18 April 1906: The great San Francisco earthquake did extensive damage to the church and the two outside naves were abandoned.

1929: Belfry remodeled.

1935: San Juan Bautista Historic Park established.

1949: The Hearst Foundation financed a restoration that brought the church back to its original form. Steel beams were hidden in the structure for earthquake protection and the side aisles were restored. The bell wall was also completed.

1958: Some scenes for Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo filmed at the mission.


  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • The Barrel Organ at Mission San Juan Bautista at http://www.standingstones.com/sanjuan.html
  • California Mission History: San Juan Bautista at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/sjbautista.html
  • More California Mission History: San Juan Bautista at http://www.californiamissions.com/morehistory/sjbautista.html
  • Monterey County Historical Society, Local History Pages--Historic Places at http://users.dedot.com/mchs/missionsjb.html
  • San Juan Bautista at http://www.maccc.org/SJUAN.HTM

Navigation for Mission San Juan Bautista:

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