Mission San Luis Obispo

Mission San Luis Obispo

xelipe/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Mission San Luis Obispo was the fifth one built in California, founded September 1, 1772, by Father Junipero Serra. The name San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was given to honor St. Louis, Toulouse, France.

Interesting Facts About San Luis Obispo Mission

Unlike many other missions which had a team of two Fathers running them, San Luis Obispo started with just one Father. After secularization, the Spanish-style building was once remodeled to look like a New England church. 

Mission San Luis Obispo Timeline

The mission was founded in 1772 by Father Junipero Serra. He put Father Jose Cavalier in charge. Cavalier stayed until he died in 1789. Father Martinez led the mission from 1796 to 1830. 

The mission was secularized in 1835.

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History of Mission San Luis Obispo: 1796 to Today

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, California
Geri Lavrov / Getty Images

In 1769, Spanish Governor of California Gaspar Portola moved north from San Diego, looking for the Monterey Bay. His party found a small river and a coastal valley near the present location of San Luis Obispo Mission. There were many bears there, so they named the area La Canada de Los Osos, Valley of the Bears.

They killed several bears for food and shared the meat with the native people. Their generosity paid off. The natives were so friendly that Father Serra decided to establish a missionary outpost in the valley, halfway between San Diego and Carmel. On September 1, 1772, Serra stopped there, picked a level spot and placed a large wooden cross.

Early Years of Mission San Luis Obispo

Father Serra left Father Jose Cavalier and two Mexican soldiers to begin the building at San Luis Obispo Mission. In 1773, Father Palou arrived with food and live animals, and the San Luis Obispo Mission began to grow.

Not all the natives were friendly. Three times during the first two years, flaming arrows set the thatched roofs of San Luis Obispo Mission on fire.

By 1783, the population grew to 600 Indians. They had 700 cattle, 900 sheep, 60 pigs, 110 horses, and 25 mules. They raised wheat, corn, and beans. In 1789, Father Cavalier died and was buried in the church.

Father Luis Martinez arrived in 1796 and ran the mission for the next 34 years.

San Luis Obispo Mission 1800-1820

In 1804, the Fathers reported 832 neophytes and a total of 2,074 baptisms. The mission quadrangle was completed in 1819. In 1830, Father Martinez left. 

The San Luis Obispo Mission was at its peak in 1805 with 961 Indians. A new hospital and a second grist mill were built that year.

In 1810, Mexico was breaking away from Spain and stopped sending materials and money to the mission. The soldiers had to ask the priests for food and clothing. Father Martinez spoke out about how they were treated, and he was often in trouble with the Mexican officials.

In 1816, Father Martinez led a group of Indians from San Luis Obispo Mission to defend Santa Barbara and San Juan Capistrano from pirates. His actions did much to repair his relationship with the Mexican Army.

San Luis Obispo Mission in the 1820s-1830s

Father Martinez left in 1830, after 34 years of service.

Secularization and San Luis Obispo Mission

In 1834, Mexico decided to stop supporting the missionaries entirely and to sell the land. The livestock was driven away, and the buildings were left to deteriorate.

The mission was sold in 1845. Finally, it was returned to the Catholic church in 1859, but by then it was severely damaged.

San Luis Obispo Mission in the 20th Century

San Luis Obispo Mission is now used as a church that occupies a prominent place in the middle of town. The church has been expanded to meet the needs of its modern congregation, but the original father's residence is preserved as a museum.

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Mission San Luis Obispo Facts, Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

San Luis Obispo Mission Layout

Betsy Malloy

Significant building at San Luis Obispo started about 1794. Master craftsmen from Mexico taught the Indians to build permanent buildings and trained them in other trades. They steadily built the church, and by 1794, it began to look much like it does today. The quadrangle was finished in 1819. In 1820, two mission bells arrived from Lima, Peru.

In 1868, the church was remodeled with white-painted siding and used as a parish church. Later, a New England-style steeple was added. In 1934, the steeple and siding were removed, and the church was restored to its original appearance. The beamed ceiling was also restored in 1947.

The church’s layout in an "L" shape is recent, designed to accommodate the many people who come to the church. Its original layout was rectangular, like most other missions.

Some sources say that San Luis Obispo was the first mission to use a red Spanish tile roof, but records prove that Mission San Antonio actually used them first.

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Mission San Luis Obispo Interior

Interior, Mission San Luis Obispo

Betsy Malloy

There are no drawings of the original interior of the San Luis Obispo Mission until about 1900 when many changes had already been made. 

In the 1930s, Father John Harnett led an extensive restoration to transform the buildings back to early mission style.

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Mission San Luis Obispo Cattle Brand

Cattle Brand of Mission San Luis Obispo

Betsy Malloy

The Mission San Luis Obispo picture above shows its cattle brand. It was drawn from samples on display at Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma and Mission San Antonio.

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San Luis Obispo Mission Bells

Bells at Mission San Luis Obispo

Betsy Malloy

According to the sign on the wall nearby, these bells have names. From left to right, their names are Carlos, Diego, Antonio, and Gabriel. They weigh from 158 pounds to 429 pounds, are made of bronze, and were cast in Holland.

Around the corner out of this picture are Gabriel and Luis

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Mission San Luis Obispo Chumash Paintings Picture

Chumash Paintings, Mission San Luis Obispo

Betsy Malloy

These paintings in the San Luis Obispo museum show traditional rock art used by the Chumash people who first lived in the area. It is typically found in caves or on cliffs in the mountains and contains images like humans, animals, celestial bodies, and other shapes and patterns

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