Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

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Spanish missions in California

Deakin SLO circa 1899.jpg
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, circa 1899.[1]
Location: San Luis Obispo, California
Coordinates: 35° 16′ 50.53″ N, 120° 39′ 52.35″ W
Name as Founded: La Misión de San Luis Obispo de Tolosa [2]
English Translation: The Mission of Saint Louis, Bishop of Toulouse
Patron Saint: Saint Louis of Anjou, Bishop of Toulouse, France
Nickname(s): "Prince of the Missions" [3]
"Mission in the Valley of Bears" [4]
"The Accidental Mission" [5]
Founding Date: September 1, 1772 [4]
Founded By: Father Presidente Junípero Serra [6]
Founding Order: Fifth
Military District: Third [7]
Native Tribe(s):
Spanish Name(s):
Primordial Place Name(s): Tilhini [8]
Baptisms: 2,644 [9]
Marriages: 763 [9]
Burials: 2,268 [9]
Secularized: 1835 [10]
Returned to the Church: 1859
Caretaker: Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey
Current Use: Parish Church / Museum
California Historical Landmark: #325
Web Site: http://www.missionsanluisobispo.org

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is a former religious outpost established by Spanish colonists on the west coast of North America in the present-day State of California (U.S. state). Founded on September 1, 1772 by Roman Catholics of the Franciscan Order, the settlement was the fifth in the twenty-one mission Alta California chain. Named after a 13th-century Bishop of Toulouse, France, Mission San Luis Obispo features the only "L"-shaped church among all of the California missions. Designated as a California Historical Landmark, today the Mission serves as a museum and as a parish church within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey.


Mission Period (1769 – 1833)

In the year 1769, Gaspar de Portolà discovered San Luis Obispo on a journey north to rediscover the Bay of Monterey. It was in this year when the area received its nickname as the la Cañada de los Osos ("Valley of the Bears") by diarist Padre Juan Crespi.[5] In 1772, when food supplies started to dwindle, Father Junípero Serra sent hunters on expeditions to kill the bears in order to feed the mission inhabitants in the north. The huge success of the hunting expedition caused Father Serra to consider building a mission on the fertile lands. Upon further investigation he was convinced that San Luis Obispo would be a perfect site for a mission based on its surplus of natural resources, good weather and the proximity of the Chumash, a local friendly Indian tribe who could provide the labor for constructing the Mission.

Founded in 1772 on a site located halfway between Santa Barbara and Monterey, the Mission church of San Luis Obispo is unusual in its design in that its combination of belfry and vestibule is found nowhere else among the California missions. The main nave is long and narrow (as is the case with other mission churches), but at San Luis Obispo there is a secondary nave of almost equal size situated to the right of the altar, making this the only "L"-shaped mission church among all of the California outposts. On September 1, 1772 a cross was erected near San Luis Obispo Creek and Father Serra celebrated the first mass. However, briefly following the first mass, the padre returned to San Diego and left the responsibility of the mission’s construction to Father Jose Cavaller. Father Cavaller, five soldiers and two neophytes began building what is now Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Father Cavaller received help in the building of the Mission from the local friendly natives, the Chumash Indians. The Chumash helped construct palisades, which would serve as temporary buildings for the Mission. However due to several Indian tribes which were determined to get rid of European settlers, they set these buildings ablaze. Because of this, Father Cavaller was forced to rebuild the buildings using adobe and tile structures. Beginning in 1794 Mission San Luis Obispo went through extensive building operations wherein numerous buildings were constructed to accommodate the nearby Indians. The renovation was finally completed with the quadrangle in 1819, celebrated a year later by the arrival of two mission bells from Lima, Peru. In 1830 Father Luis Gil y Taboada took over the Mission.

Rancho Period (1834 – 1849)

In 1842 the death of Father Ramon Abella marked the last Franciscan at the mission.[1] In 1845 Governor Pío Pico declared the Mission buildings for sale and sold everything except the church for a total of $510. John C. Frémont and his "California Battalion" used the Mission as a base of operations during their war with Mexico in 1846 (see Bear Flag Revolt).

California Statehood (1850 – 1900)

President James Buchanan signed a proclamation on September 2, 1859 that restored ownership of the Mission proper to the Roman Catholic Church.[11] The Mission fell into ruins during the period of secularization and the priests that were left would rent out rooms to help support the Mission. The facility became the first courthouse]] and jail in San Luis Obispo County, California. In 1872, during the 100th anniversary of the Mission, improvements began, but real restoration did not begin until 1933.

20th century and beyond (1901 – present)

In 1970 the Mission was recognized as the "center of the City of San Luis Obispo" with the dedication of Mission Plaza.[2]

Notes and references

  1. (PD) Painting: Edwin Deakin
  2. Leffingwell, p. 85
  3. Schulte-Peevers, p. 682
  4. 4.0 4.1 Yenne, p. 56
  5. 5.0 5.1  Ruscin, p. 53 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "ruscin53" defined multiple times with different content
  6. Ruscin, p. 196
  7. Forbes, p. 202
  8. Ruscin, p. 195
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Krell, p. 315: as of December 31, 1832; information adapted from Engelhardt's Missions and Missionaries of California.
  10. Krell, p. 130
  11. Leffingwell, p. 87