Mission San Luis Rey

Mission San Luis Rey Exterior

Betsy Malloy 

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was the eighteenth one built in California, founded June 13, 1798, and was the last California mission founded by Father Fermin Lasuen. It was named for Louis, King of France (Mission San Luis Rey de Francia).

Mission San Luis Rey Timeline

  • 1798 -Father Lasuen founds Mission San Luis Rey
  • 1821 -First church finished
  • 1831 -2,800 native converts
  • 1832 -Father Peyri leaves Mission San Luis Rey
  • 1834 -Secularized
  • 1892 -Franciscans return to Mission San Luis Rey
  • 1895 -Reconstruction begins

The mission is north of San Diego in Oceanside. You can find the address and hours at the Mission San Luis Rey website.

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History of Mission San Luis Rey de Francia: 1798 to the Present Day

Pulpit at Mission San Luis Rey
Jessica Glass/Flickr/Pulpit at Mission San Luis Rey

San Luis Rey Mission was founded on June 13, 1798, by Father Fermin Lasuen. It was number eighteen out of twenty-one missions.

Early San Luis Rey Mission History

Father Lasuen chose the San Luis Rey Mission site because there were lots of friendly Indians living in the area, but he also picked a place with good soil. Under the guidance of Father Antonio Peyri, who stayed here for more than thirty years, it soon became the most productive of all the California missions.

The natives liked to work and accepted baptism readily. Soon, they were making adobe bricks; within two years, many tile-roofed buildings were completed, and a big church with room for 1,000 people was under construction.

San Luis Rey Mission History in the 1820s -1830s

By 1821, the first church was finished. Only six years after its founding, the San Luis Rey was already producing 5,000 bushels a year, and its herds numbered more than 10,000 animals. The Fathers trained the Indians to do many kinds of work: candle and soap-making, tanning, wine-making, weaving, farming, and ranching. They also taught them to sing in the choir.

San Luis Rey Mission reached its peak in 1831 when records show there were 2,800 natives living there. It produced 395,000 bushels of grain, and its vineyard yielded 2,500 barrels of wine.

Secularization and San Luis Rey Mission

Father Peyri stayed here for 34 years, but he couldn't bear to see what would happen with secularization, so he retired in 1832 and went back to Spain. The decline began as soon as he left. The natives tried to maintain the place but were unsuccessful. Eventually, Mexican Governor Pio Pico sold the San Luis Rey Mission buildings 1846 for $2,427, a fraction of their $200,000 value.

The Indians moved to a reservation at Pala where they still live. The U. S. Army occupied Mission San Luis Rey de Francia site for a time, but then it was neglected. It was returned to the Catholic church in 1865, but it languished until 1892 when Franciscans from Mexico returned along with Father Joseph J. O'Keefe, an American Franciscan. The church was rededicated in 1893, and reconstruction started in 1895.

San Luis Rey Mission in the 20th Century

It took until 1905 for the Fathers to finish enough reconstruction to move back in, and it continues today. The lavanderia (laundry) and sunken gardens were uncovered in 1959.

Today, the San Luis Rey Mission is an active parish church.

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Mission San Luis Rey Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

Mission San Luis Rey De Francia Layout

Betsy Malloy

The original church at Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was designed to hold 1,000 people. Completed in 1802, it was made of adobe brick and had a tile roof.

By 1811, the mission had grown, and Father Peyri started a new church, the one we see there today. It is 180 feet long, 28 feet wide and 30 feet high.

Jose Antonio Ramirez came from Mexico to teach Indians construction techniques for the new church. Completed and dedicated on October 4, 1815, it was built with adobe, lime plaster, wooden timbers and included fired clay bricks and roof tiles.

The building is built in a style called Spanish Colonial, a combination of Baroque and Classical elements. Detailed work on the church continued for ten more years.

By 1826, the quadrangle was 500 feet long on a side. In the front, the convento stretched 600 feet long with 32 arches. It had rooms for priests and guests. The mission also had an infirmary, women's quarters, storerooms, workrooms, orchards and gardens outside. The oldest pepper tree in California, brought from Peru around 1830, still grows in the quadrangle.

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Laundry at San Luis Rey

Gargoyle in the Laundry at Mission San Luis Rey

 Betsy Malloy Photography

In front of the mission are an open-air laundry (lavanderia) and sunken garden. Here, water flowed from two springs through open-mouthed gargoyles (stone faces) into a bricked area where the Indians did the laundry. It then flowed into an irrigation system that watered exotic plants and orchards. The water system even included a charcoal filter purification system to keep drinking water clean.

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Cattle at Mission San Luis Rey

Cattle Brand of Mission San Luis Rey

Betsy Malloy Photography

In 1831, the mission had had 16,000 cattle and 25,500 sheep. The picture above shows the Mission San Luis Rey brand. It was drawn from samples on display at Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission San Antonio.

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Mission San Luis Rey Interior Picture

Nave with the main altar, Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, Oceanside, California, USA
Horst Mahr / Getty Images

Today, the mission is restored and re-painted to match pictures of the original interior. The Stations of the Cross painted on the walls were painted for Mission San Luis Rey in Mexico in the 1780s.

The wooden pulpit, the only wooden part of the mission that survived termites, is original.

The original reredos behind the altar was destroyed by treasure-seekers, and they have not tried to recreate it because no original drawings or pictures survive.