Located between San Diego and Los Angeles in the city of San Juan Capistrano is one of the twenty-one California missions established when Spain still ruled the territory. It is a truly inspiring place to visit with buildings that have been wonderfully restored and grounds that are breathtakingly beautiful. It was founded on November 1, 1776, the seventh of nice missions founded by Father Junipero Serra.
By 1806, the Mission had a population of 1,000 people and over 10,000 head of cattle and a grand stone church had been completed. But by 1812, the mission had started to decline due mostly to declining birth rates and an increase in mortality rates because of disease. Then an earthquake hit in December of 1812 and caused the collapse of the stone church. The Spanish government could not protect the supply route to the mission and without supplies, more people left the area.
Above is all that remains of the original stone church.
When Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821, the territory became part of Mexico and in 1834, the Mexican Government decided to end the mission system entirely and in 1845 the Mission was sold to the brother-in-law of the Governor for a little over 1% of its value.
After the Mexican-American war in 1848, California became part of the United States and millions of Americans were headed that way because of the gold rush. California was declared a state in 1850 and the government was petitioned to return the California missions to the Catholic Church. President Lincoln obliged and all twenty-one of the California missions became property of the Catholic Church.
Many people began taking interest in the missions and wanted to see them restored and preserved. Mission San Juan Capistrano had many supporters and between 1910 and 1940, quite a bit of preservation work took place.
Today the Mission continues preservation efforts with the help of donations each year. The Mission is owned by the Catholic Church but, it is run by a non-profit organization. It does not receive funding from the Church or the state of California or the Federal Government. It depends entirely on the the contributions from visitors and benefactors.