Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

By Levi Clancy for לוי on
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On an elevated piece of land, the superb structure of Mission San Luis Rey, the glittering whiteness of which was flashed back to us by the first rays of the day. At the distance in which we were and in the still, uncertain light of dawn, this edifice, very beautifully modeled and supported by its numerous pillars, had the aspect of a palace. (Auguste Duhaut-Cilly, 1827)

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was founded by Fathers Lasuen, Santiago and Peyri (Franciscan priests) and built by Luiseño natives, in modern Oceanside, California. It was dedicated June 13 1798, the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua. It was named after French king Louis IX and was known as King of the Missions due to its size, productivity and power, and for performing more baptisms and marriages than any other mission. At over 6 acres, Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was the largest building in California until the mid-1800s. Luiseno Indians had resided in the area for centuries prior to Spanish occupation.

mission san luis rey de francia

Dedication of Mission

Dedication of Mission13/06/1798Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was dedicated on the feast day of Saint Anthony of Padua. Father Antonio Peyri was placed in charge of the Mission.
Plans for Church1811Father Peyri and Father Geronimo Boscana signed plans for a permanent church and the foundations were laid the same year.
Dedication of Church04/10/1815Present church completed and dedicated on the Feast of St. Francis.
Church Repairs1817Repairs fixed masonry errors that had caused a leaky roof.
Mexican Independence1821Mexico won its independence from Spain and passed a Decree of Secularization. Each mission was given ten years to fulfill their goal of instructing the natives. At the end of ten years, the missions and their land would be handed over to the natives. No additional building was reported after Mexican Independence.
Mission's Power Rises1827According to Father Peyri's account, Mission San Luis Rey towered over all other missions: 22,610 head of cattle, 27,412 sheep, 1,120 goats and 1,501 horses. The Mission claimed extensive land and brought the surrounding 15 miles under cultivation. Its self-sustaining community used local materials, adobe, fired clay bricks and wooden timbers.
Great Heights1829A community of 3,000 neophytes flourished at the Mission by 1829. Its lands had been brought brought into grape, orange, olive, wheat and corn cultivation. Water was channeled from the river just north of the Mission to irrigate the fields.
California Record1830Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was the largest building in California.
Father Peyri Departs01/1832Father Antonio Peyri departed the mission.

Mexican Secular Era

In 1833, the Decree of Secularization was issued by Governor Echeandia. Secularization occurred later in Alta California. The Missions were turned into parishes and the lands became large ranchos upon being sold or gifted to colonists, military personnel or politicos. Various secular persons seized control of the Mission, its land and its livestock; the Luiseños were left with nothing. Under control of Pio Pico and other secular administrators, Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was plundered and left for ruin.

American Military Era (1847-1857)

Notable figures who served at the mission include General Stephen W. Kearney, Kit Carson and the Battalion of Mormon Volunteers. Some troops stationed a the mission were ordered to prevent its depredation. Others assisted local ranchers in its dismantlement so its building materials could be reused elsewhere.

Captain Fremont08/1846Captain Fremont took possession of Mission San Luis Rey.
Mormon Visitors02/1847The Battalion of Mormon Volunteers under Lt. Cooke camped at Mission San Luis Rey for six weeks.
American California1850California became part of the United States. The Catholic Bishop in California petitioned the US government to return the missions.

Abandonment (1860-1892)

Abandonment of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia led to its heavy destruction. Local settlers had begun reusing brick, roof tiles and wooden beams from the Mission for their own homes. The Mission walls eroded away, columns collapsed, the altar was stolen and the front doors were taken away. The cupola fell into the crossing.

Proclamation18/03/1865President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation that returned Mission San Luis Rey de Francia to the Catholic Church. This included the structure itself and 64 acres of land.

20th Century Restoration

Franciscans Return1892A group of Franciscans from Zacatecas, Mexico sought refuge in California and asked the Bishop for a site to move their novitiate. They were assigned to Mission San Luis Rey de Francia. Father Joseph Jeremias O'Keefe was sent as an interpreter and to oversee the renovations of the church. The Church was walled off at the crossing to allow for rededication and to allow restoration of walls of the transepts and sanctuary, as well as the roof.
Renovations1892-1912Father O'Keefe repaired the church and rebuilt the permanent living quarters on the foundations of the old mission.
Church Superstructure1893New dome and cupola structures were completed over the crossing and north end of the Church.
Church Ceiling1899The church's new wooden ceiling was completed.
Repairs Complete1905The work on the quadrangle and the church was complete.
Church Superstructure1906The dome and cupola were heightened.
Bell Tower Collapse1926The bell tower's southeast corner collapsed, up to but not including the dome.
Bell Tower Repair1927The repair and reconstruction of the bell tower was complete, supposedly with reinforced concrete in some areas.
Franciscan College1949The quadrangle was partially rebuilt for the usage of a Franciscan college. It serves today as a Retreat Center.
Excavations1950's-1960'sThe Friars uncovered soldiers barracks and the lavanderia beneath layers of dirt.
Church Renovations1984A project was completed to stabilize and preserve the church exterior.
Getty Foundation2004The Getty Foundation gave Mission San Luis Rey de Francia a planning grant that was used to create the Mission San Luis Rey Seismic Retrofit Conservation Plan.