San Juan Bautista is the largest mission church in California at 188 feet long, 72 feet wide and 40 feet high. It is made of adobe brick three feet thick, with a red tile roof and floor. Its walls are three feet thick with cement support and its cloister is 230 feet long.
The original church design by Father Cuesta called for three aisles and a capacity of more than 1,000. However, the design was changed during construction, either because of concerns about earthquakes or because the declining Indian population did not require such a large building.
Just inside the massive carved entrance doors, on the old red tile floor you can see 180-year old animal paw prints, probably left by some wandering pets before the tiles dried. Look for the cat door in one of the side doors, left over from a time when cats kept mice away.
In 1906, an earthquake struck San Juan Bautista. It destroyed the church's side walls and some of the outbuildings. After the earthquake, the mission was rebuilt and strengthened with concrete. A restoration in 1949 was financed by the Hearst Foundation.
Originally, bells hung from a wooden crossbar in the courtyard and the church had no bell tower. A wooden tower was added in the 1860s and it was later duplicated in concrete. The tower made it easy to ring the church bells comfortably in any weather, but it was removed in the early 1950s. In 1976 a campanario, or bell wall, was erected (or possibly rebuilt) in the style of the other missions. Originally nine bells hung outside the church, but only three bells remain.