California Mission Glossary

A Collection of Terms Associated with California Mission History

Experts on California's Spanish missions throw around a lot of architectural terms and names that can be confusing to the rest of us. This illustrated glossary may help you figure out what they're talking about.

  • 01 of 19

    Adobe

    Adobe Bricks at San Gabriel Mission
    ••• Adobe Bricks at San Gabriel Mission. ©2011 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: Bricks made of compressed mud and straw, dried in the sun.

    Adobe bricks are one of the world's oldest building materials. Even though they are made of dirt and not fired in a kiln, they are very long-lasting in dry climates. However, they aren't very strong and buildings made from them may fall down during an earthquake.

    Many of the early California mission buildings were made of adobe and most of them were damaged by earthquakes.

    Adobe bricks are usually made by pressing the mud-and-straw mixture into wooden  molds so they come out square.

    Pronunciation: uh-DOUGH-bee

    Examples: The mission was built of adobe bricks.

  • 02 of 19

    Buttress

    Buttresses at Santa Ynez Mission
    ••• Buttresses at Santa Ynez Mission. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A structure made of stone or wood, built against a wall to strengthen it.

    Only a few California missions used buttresses to strengthen their buildings. One of them was Mission Santa Ynez, which is shown in the photo. San Gabriel Mission also has buttresses, but they are smaller.

    Pronunciation: BUT-truss

    Examples: Wooden buttresses helped strengthen the structure.

  • 03 of 19

    Campanario

    Campanario at La Purisima Mission
    ••• Campanario at La Purisima Mission. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A wall which holds bells.

    Many of the missions had structures like this campanario at La Purisima Mission. Mission San Diego's bell tower holds five bells and so does the one a Mission San Miguel.

    Pronunciation: CAHM puh NAH ree oh

    Examples: The campanario holds three bells.

  • 04 of 19

    Cloister

    Cloister at Mission San Juan Bautista
    ••• Cloister at Mission San Juan Bautista. ©2006 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A covered walkway that runs beside a building. The word is used most often when the covered walkway is located at a religious building.

    Many of the missions  had cloisters like this one at Mission San Juan Bautista. 

    Pronunciation: CLOY ster

    Examples: The garden was surrounded by a cloister. The cloister at Mission San Juan Bautista is 230 feet long.

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  • 05 of 19

    Convento

    Exterior View, La Purisima Mission
    ••• Exterior View, La Purisima Mission. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A group of monks or nuns, or the place where they gather. Convento is a Spanish word for their residence.

    In the California missions, the priests lived in the convento. It was usually part of the mission quadrangle, next to the church on the front of the structure. 

    Pronunciation: con VEN toh

    Examples: The convento in the picture is one of the rooms in the long structure.

  • 06 of 19

    El Camino Real

    Highway Marker for the El Camino Real in California
    ••• Highway Marker for the El Camino Real in California. ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: Spanish for "The King's Highway" or the "Royal Road," the name of the road that connected the California mission chain.

    The El Camino Real was 600 miles long and connected all 21 missions, along with several sub-missions, four presidios and three towns. 

    Today's US Highway 101 follows much of the route of the old El Camino Real. Historical markers like the one in the photo mark its route.

    Pronunciation: ell cuh MEAN oh RAY al

    Examples: Soldiers traveled from mission to mission on the El Camino Real. The mission bell on the curved pole marks the route of the El Camino Real.

  • 07 of 19

    Facade

    Facade of Mission Santa Barbara
    ••• Facade of Mission Santa Barbara. ©2005 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: The face or front of a building.

    Most of the California missions have a simple facade, but the one at Mission Santa Barbara is more elaborate. 

    Pronunciation: fuh SAHD

    Examples: The facade of Santa Barbara Mission is especially grand.

  • 08 of 19

    Font

    Baptismal Font at Mission Santa Barbara
    ••• Baptismal Font at Mission Santa Barbara. ©2007 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A large, decorated bowl holding Holy Water. Used for baptizing babies and new converts.

    The font is used for baptisms, which are done by sprinkling or pouring water on the head. 

    Pronunciation: fahnt

    Examples: The font was kept in a side room. This is the baptismal font at Mission Santa Barbara.

     

    Continue to 9 of 19 below.
  • 09 of 19

    Franciscan

    Franciscans at Father Serra's Tomb, Mission Carmel
    ••• Franciscans at Father Serra's Tomb, Mission Carmel. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A member of a Catholic Church religious order, named for St. Francis of Assisi.

    Franciscans follow the teaching of St. Francis of Assisi. Franciscans swear to live a life of prayer, preaching and penance (voluntary self-punishment). They are also active as missionaries.

    Most of the Franciscans who worked in California's early missions came from Spain or Mexico. 

    Pronunciation: fran SIS cun

    Examples: The Franciscan fathers founded Mission San Diego. This statue shows what their clothing looked like.

  • 10 of 19

    Fresco

    Frescoes at Mission San Miguel
    ••• Frescoes at Mission San Miguel. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A painting made directly onto wet plaster.

    Pronunciation: FRES coh

    A few of the early California missions had beautiful fresco murals. Few of them survive.

    Examples: A fresco decorates the altar. The frescoes at Mission San Miguel are some of the best-preserved ones in California.

  • 11 of 19

    Neophyte

    Neophytes Working - Diorama at Mission San Francisco
    ••• Neophytes Working - Diorama at Mission San Francisco. ©2004 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A new convert.

    Anyone who is new to learning something - or a new convert to a religion - is called a neophyte. 

    Pronunciation: nee oh FIGHT

    Examples: The neophyte learned a Bible verse. The diorama of Mission San Francisco shows neophytes at work and play

  • 12 of 19

    Padre

    Father Serra's Room at Mission Carmel
    ••• Father Serra's Room at Mission Carmel. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: Spanish for "father," the word is the title of a Roman Catholic priest or pastor.

    Padres can also baptize and marry people, hear confessions and do other tasks in the church.

    Pronunciation: POD ray

    Examples: Padre Gonzales taught a Bible class.

    The Spanish missionaries who worked in California were priests or Fathers.

    The word Friar is sometimes mistakenly used or them, but that word is from the word for "brother," or a member of a religious order.

    Continue to 13 of 19 below.
  • 13 of 19

    Presidio

    Presidio at Santa Barbara
    ••• Presidio at Santa Barbara. AI R/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

    Definition: A fortified military settlement.

    The Spanish government sent soldiers to California along with the priests. The soldiers built their forts close to the missions. The largest of them were in San Diego, Monterey and San Francisco.

    Pronunciation: pruh SID ee oh

    Examples: The soldiers built a presidio near the mission.

  • 14 of 19

    Quadrangle

    Model of a Mission Quadrangle at Mission San Francisco
    ••• Model of a Mission Quadrangle at Mission San Francisco. ©2004 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: An enclosed courtyard or patio, having four sides.

    Many of the missions were built in a rectangular shape around a courtyard. Some of them had two quadrangles that were connected to each other.

    Pronunciation: kwah DRANG gull

    Examples: The garden was in the quadrangle. This San Francisco mission model shows the layout of a quadrangle.

  • 15 of 19

    Reredos

    Reredos at Mission San Francisco
    ••• Reredos at Mission San Francisco. ©2004 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: A screen or partition wall behind the main altar in a church, usually ornamental.

    Many reredos include religious icons and statues of saints, lie this one at Mission San Francisco.

    Pronunciation: RARE uh dus

    Examples: The reredos was painted by a local artist. 

  • 16 of 19

    Restoration

    Definition: To repair something to its original condition.

    Many of the Spanish missions were unused for many years, and some of the were badly damaged. In a few cases, the tile roof was removed and the adobe walls were left open the weather. Because of years of neglect, they had to be restored to the conditions you see now.

    Pronunciation: rest uh RAY shun

    Examples: The mission restoration cost $100,000.

    Continue to 17 of 19 below.
  • 17 of 19

    Sanctuary

    Sanctuary at Mission Buenaventura
    ••• Sanctuary at Mission Buenaventura. ©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    Definition: The area inside a church where the main altar is found.

    The word sanctuary originally meant a holy place, but today it means a place of safety. 

    In church architecture, the sanctuary is the most sacred part of the building. It is the area around the altar.

    Pronunciation: sang CHEW airy

    Examples: The sanctuary had a stone floor. The altar at Mission San Luis Obispo is in the sanctuary.

  • 18 of 19

    Secular

    Definition: Not religious.

    Pronunciation: SEK you ler

    Examples: Secular authorities took over the mission.

  • 19 of 19

    Secularization

    Definition: To change from religious to non-religious. In relation to the missions, it meant taking the missions away from the church and placing them under government rule.

    Pronunciation: SECK you ler uh ZAY shun

    Examples: After secularization, the mission went unused.