Mission San Luis Rey

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Mission San Luis Rey de Francia

(Louis IX, King of France 1215-70, canonized in 1290 for his crusades to Egypt and the Holy Land)

A brief history

The Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is the 18th mission founded in California. It was founded on June 13, 1798 by Father-President Lasuén. Named for King Louis IX, King of France from the age of twelve. In April of 1250 he was captured during his first crusade in Egypt. He led a second crusade during which he caught Typhus and succumbed in 1270 at Tunis. During his reign, he was a fearless soldier and a skilled administrator. He was known for his piety, asceticism and benevolence. He was canonized in 1297.

Considered the largest and most populous of the mission in the Americas, San Luis Rey was blessed from its beginnings. Much of its success was credited to Father Antonio Peyri who led the mission from its founding until its secularization some thirty-six years later. The last mission founded my Father Lasuen, it closed the gap between San Diego and San Juan Capistrano. Some 20 years earlier the Portola expedition had met the natives and reported them cordial in attitude. On its founding day, Father Lasuen baptized 54 children and 19 adults asked to be baptized but were instructed to wait for teachings before they became Christians.

In six months the mission had a population of two hundred and fourteen neophytes living there, thus forcing the acceleration of the building process. Further assisting the building was an order from the

Governor requiring the personal labor of the soldiers from San Diego to assist under Father Lasuen without complaint. Two years after the start, all the roofs were covered in tile from the mission’s own kilns and the first big church was started. A narrow structure, one hundred and thirty-eight felt long and big enough to hold a congregation of a thousand people.

For the missions life, construction was continual. The highlight of Father Peyri’s efforts was the current church that now sits on the hill and looks over the valley. Some say this church is incomplete because it has only one tower, but the single tower was used as a lookout and the building composition doesn’t require an additional tower to lend to its beauty.

The mission itself grew until it encompassed over six acres with an extensive water system taken from the nearby river and distributed over the grounds. An elaborate sunken garden and lavanderia was built in a small valley below the mission. Now covered by silt, it is currently being excavated and will someday be restored to it original states.

Seeing that secularization was approaching, Father Peyri chose to retire before his mission was destroyed. Though he signed an oath of allegiance to the new government in Mexico, he ask to be relieved and after it was granted he left in secrecy to return to Spain. The natives were so upset and his having left that they raced to San Diego and begged him to return. He gave his blessings from the deck of the ship as it sailed from the harbor.

Two years later, secularization came to the mission. In 1846, the buildings were sold and later occupied by the United States Army. In 1865 the mission was returned to the Church, but it wasn’t until 1893 that religious use began again. During this long period of time, the buildings collapsed and fell into ruin. In 1893 reconstruction was began and even today it is still being performed, so great was the ruin. The mission was briefly used as a backdrop for the Disney Zorro films.

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