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Article by David Johnson: The San Luis Rey Mission is both a beautiful example of classic Spanish colonial architecture, and at the same time is a working 21st century church and cemetery. Founded just before the turn of the 19th century, the mission has gone through a convulsive series of changes that reflect the political history of Southern California.
The present day mission lies within the City of Oceanside, immediately north of the intersection of Mission Avenue and Rancho del Oro. It is perhaps 500 yards north of State Route 76. The property contains a Catholic church, flower filled gardens, a museum, gift shop, quarters for the thirty or so Franciscan friars who reside here, meeting rooms available for a variety of educational purposes, a cemetery and several miscellaneous attractions of archeological or historical significance.
The Church: The mission is the home of the San Luis Rey Parish, served by the Franciscan Friars of the Province of St. Barbara. The priests celebrate six masses on Sundays, with two being conducted in Spanish. The first Sunday mass is held in the old mission church, and the others are held in the Parish Chapel or the Serra Center which are located adjacent to the mission grounds. Additionally there are morning masses at 7:30 on Monday through Saturday, and all are held in the Parish Chapel. The church is a place of almost indescribable beauty outside of its historical and architectural significance to San Diego. While the San Luis Rey Mission facilities are venerable by American standards, the parish is a 21st century organization with a modern website, online calendar and a Facebook page.
The Museum: A highlight of any visit to the mission is a tour of the museum. It is open seven days a week, with hours of 9:30-5 on Monday through Friday, and 10-5 on Saturday and Sunday. There are regular guided tours during visiting hours. Admission for adults is $5.00, children 6-18 and seniors 65+ are charged $4.00, and children and military families enter free of charge. Be advised that flash photography is not allowed in the museum or in the church.
It is highly recommended that your visit coincide with museum hours as it contains priceless and interesting artifacts from all eras of the mission’s colorful history (which is discussed in more detail below). It includes depictions of both a friar’s sleeping quarters, and a kitchen and dining area dating from 18th century period. The museum is part of a section of the mission which was reconstructed more than 100 years ago, and it is attached to the now 200+ year old church.
The Cemetery: The cemetery is located immediately east of the Church and museum, and it opened in 1798. The oldest marker in the cemetery belongs to a Mary Hayes, and dates back to 1860. The grounds are a lovely combination of trees, pathways and grave markers, and they are bordered by walls which hold the urns of cremains. There is a monument near the entrance dating from about 1830 that commemorates the many Native Americans buried in the vicinity. At the west end of the cemetery against the church wall are the crypts containing remains of the friars who lived and ended their lives at the mission. The cemetery is currently undergoing an expansion on its east end.
Other Attractions: Directly below the mission are the fenced ruins of barracks which housed soldiers who were garrisoned in the area during the mid-1800s. There is a monument placed at the south end of the site by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which commemorates a Mormon battalion which served in the area in the late 1840s. Further south of the barracks is the lavandaria. It was a bathing area for local Indians, and also provided a water system used to irrigate fields and gardens. It is currently a registered archeological survey site. Finally, within the mission quadrangle is a pepper tree reputed to be the first pepper tree planted in California, still alive more than 180 years later.
Personal Experience: I'm surprised it took me this long to visit this mission! This is instantly my favorite mission in San Diego now. There is a museum but I got here too late so I will have to make another trip to see it. It is gorgeous! And they have an old cemetery, which I love old, historical cemeteries. P.S. There is another old cemetery across the street from the mission. I will posting about that soon!