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Mission San Juan Capistrano

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Mission San Juan Capistrano Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds
Mission San Juan Capistrano

San Juan Capistrano Stonework

©2002 Betsy Malloy. Used by Permission.

We don't have a drawing of the mission layout, but here's what we do know. If you're building a mission model, it may also help you to take a look at a mission model and also the drawing on the first page of this gallery.

In 1797, construction of a larger church began at the mission. Isidor Aguilar, an expert stonemason from Mexico, was hired to supervise the construction. Aguilar incorporated architectural features not found in other missions, including a domed ceiling. It was to be a grand church, 180 feet long and 40 feet wide in the shape of a cross with an 120 foot tall bell tower above the entrance. The floor had diamond-shaped tiles and there were small windows high on the walls.

The Indian workers brought the stones to the building site from a quarry six miles away. Crushed limestone mortar held the stones together. Unfortunately, Aguilar died six years into the project and never saw the finished church. The Indians and the padres carried on, finally completing the church in 1806.

Unfortunately, the magnificent structure was destroyed in an earthquake in December of 1812, and 40 lives were lost. The bell tower collapsed in the earthquake and a bell wall, or campanario, was built to replace it in 1813. Four bells hung in the campanario: two dated 1796 and two dated 1804. These bells are not as old as the mission is, and no one knows exactly where they came from.

The fathers never rebuilt the church and moved back into the adobe chapel instead. The chapel is called the Father Serra Chapel because it is the only building still standing where it is known that he said mass. In fact, historians think it may be the oldest building in all of California.

The impressive golden altar at the mission today is not the original. It was a gift from Archbishop Cantwell of Los Angeles who had received it from Spain in 1906. It was so tall that they had to raise the ceiling to fit it inside.

A burial chapel was added to the church in 1821.

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