The Missions: Number 7

World-famous Mission San Juan Capistrano might have been number six in the chain, but a tragedy postponed the plans. A week after Father Fermin and Lt. Ortega dedicated the site in October 1775, further development was abandoned when the priest and his military escort received news of the massacre of Father Jayme at San Diego. A year later, however, Father President Junipero Serra himself led a party to re-establish San Juan Capistrano as number seven on All Saints Day, November 1, 1776. It was named for St. John Capistran, first General of the Observative Franciscans. Mission San Juan Capistrano thrived over the next 30 years, growing in population, buildings, livestock, and prominence. By 1806 The Great Stone Church was in place, an architectural marvel.  Six years later, though, the mission began to decline due to several factors: a massive earthquake that toppled much of the beautiful new church, a decline in Indian birth rate, high mortality from diseases, and the inability of the Spanish government to supply it with needed goods. Ten years after Mexico gained its independence from Spain, the Mexican government decided to end the mission system, and issued a decree of secularization. The land holdings of San Juan Capistrano were divided and sold to 20 prominent California families. California’s last Mexican governor, Pio Pico, sold the mission itself to his brother-in-law, John Forster; it remained private ranch property for the next 20 years. In the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln, responding to petitioners, restored the missions to the Catholic Church. Throughout the early 20th century, a great amount of preservation and restoration work was accomplished. Unique among these Spanish colonial outposts, Mission San Juan Capistrano celebrates the Cliff Swallows that return to it each year in March, from their winter home in Argentina.

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