California Missions – San Luis, Rey De Francia

THE last Mission of the century, the last of Lasuen’s administration, and the last south of Santa Barbara, was that of San Luis Rey. Lasuen himself explored the region and determined the site. The Governor agreed to it, and on the 27th of February, 1798, ordered a guard to be furnished from San Diego who should obey Lasuen implicitly and help erect the necessary buildings for the new Mission. The founding took place on the 13th of June, in the presence of Captain Grajera and his guard, a few San Juan neophytes, and many gentiles, President Lasuen performing the ceremonies aided by Padres Peyri and Santiago. Fifty-four children were baptized at the same time, and from the very start the Mission was prosperous. No other missionary has left such a record as Padre Peyri. He was zealous, sensible, and energetic. He knew what he wanted and how to secure it. The Indians worked willingly for him, and by the 1st of July six thousand adobes were made for the church. By the end of 1800 there were 337 neophytes, 617 larger stock, and 1600 sheep.

The new church was completed in 1801-2, but Peyri was too energetic to stop at this. Buildings of all kinds were erected, and neophytes gathered in so that by 1810 its population was 1519, with the smallest death rate of any Mission. In 1811 Peyri petitioned the Governor to allow him to build a new and better church of adobes and bricks ; but as consent was not forthcoming he went out to Pala, and in 1816 established a branch establishment, built a church, and the picturesque campanile now known all over the world, and soon had a thousand converts tilling the soil and attending the services of the church.

In 1826 San Luis Rey reached its maximum in population with 2869 neophytes. From now on began its decline, though in material prosperity it was far ahead of any other Mission. In 1828 it had 28,900 sheep, and the cattle were also rapidly increasing. The average crop of grain was 12,660 bushels.

Duhaut-Cilly left perhaps the best description extant of San Luis in its palmy days. He visited it in 1827, and says:

“At last we turned inland, and after a jaunt of an hour and a half we found before us, on a piece of rising ground, the superb buildings of Mission San Luis Rey, whose glittering whiteness was flashed back to us by the first rays of the day. At that distance, and in the still uncertain light of dawn, this edifice, of a very beautiful model, supported upon its numerous pillars had the aspect of a palace. The architectural faults cannot be grasped at this distance, and the eye is attracted only to the elegant mass of this beautiful structure. . . . Instinctively I stopped my horse to gaze alone, for a few minutes, on the beauty of this sight.”

Later he says, ” The buildings were drawn on a large and ample plan, wholly the idea of the Padre (Peyri) ; he directed the execution of it, in which he was assisted by a very skilful man, who had contributed also to the building of those at Santa Barbara; so, although these are much more sumptuous, at that place may be recognized the same hand.

” This building forms a large square of five hundred feet on each side. The main facade is a long peristyle borne on thirty-two square pillars supporting round arches. The edifice is composed, indeed, of only a ground-floor, but its elevation, of fine proportions, gives it as much grace as nobleness. It is covered with a tiled roof, flattened, around which reaches, as much without as within the square, a terrace with an elegant balustrade which stimulates still more the height. Within is seen a large court, neat and levelled, around which pillars and arches similar to those of the peristyle support a long cloister, by which one communicates with all the dependencies of the Mission.”

When Peyri saw that the republic was inevitable he became its enthusiastic friend and swore allegiance; but as the plans of the spoliators became more open, and the law of expulsion of all Spaniards was passed in 1829, he endeavored to obtain his passports, though unsuccessfully. When Governor Victoria was exiled he went from San Gabriel to rest and recruit awhile at San Luis Rey ; and then the venerable padre decided that the time had come for him to leave the scene of over thirty years of arduous though congenial toil. Accordingly he went with Victoria to San Diego, where a vessel had been chartered. The story is told, and I do not question its material truth, that, knowing he could not comfortably take leave of his Indians, he fled in the night time, hoping to escape without their knowledge. Missing him, however, in the morning, they learned somehow that he had gone, so, mounting their ponies, a large number of them rode to San Diego, hoping to be able to bring him back. They arrived just as the ship was weighing anchor. Standing on the deck, with outstretched arms he blessed them amid their tears and cries. Some swam out after the ship, it is said. He had with him four neophyte boys, whom he took to Europe.

For many years the Indians left behind at San Luis Rey were in the habit of placing candles and flowers before the picture of Padre Peyri and offering prayers to him, pleading with him to return. Even after his death this was kept up, the simple-hearted Indians preferring to pray to a saint, whose goodness they had known and felt, rather than to those of whom they knew nothing but what they were told.

In his address before the assembly May 1, 1834, Figueroa stated that three pueblos had been organized out of Mission communities, and that the one of Las Flores, by the neophytes of San Luis Rey was flourishing. How true this is there is no evidence in the records to show. By his decree of November 4 San Luis Rey was made a parish of the first class, and earlier, in October, he had issued a resolution of the assembly to the effect that Indian towns were no longer to be called Missions. They were towns of the republic, subject to the civil laws the same as other towns, and not under the control of the padres alone.

San Luis Rey was one of the Missions where a large number of cattle were slaughtered on account of the secularization decree. It is said that some 20,000 head were killed at the San Jacinto Rancho alone. The Indians were much stirred up over the granting of the ranchos, which they claimed were their own lands. Indeed they formed a plot to capture the Governor on one of his southern trips in order to protest to him against the granting of the Temecula Rancho.

The final secularization took place in November, 1834, with Captain Portilla as comisionado and Pio Pico as majordomo and administrator until 1840. There was trouble in apportioning the lands among the Indians, for Portilla called for fifteen or twenty men to aid him in quelling disturbances; and at Pala the majordomo was knocked down and left for dead by an Indian. The inventory showed property (including the church, valued at $30,000) worth $203,707, with debts of $93,000. The six ranchos were included as worth $40,437, the three most valuable being Pala, Santa Margarita, and San Jacinto.

Micheltorena’s decree of 1843 restored San Luis Rey to priestly control, but by that time its spoliation was nearly complete. Padre Zalvidea was in his dotage, and the four hundred Indians had scarcely anything left to them. Two years later the majordomo, appointed by Zalvidea to act for him, turned over the property to his successor, and the inventory shows the frightful wreckage. Of all the vast herds and flocks, only 279 horses, 20 mules, 61 asses, 196 cattle, 27 yoke oxen, 700 sheep, and a few valueless implements remained. All the ranchos had passed into private ownership.

May 18, 1846, all that remained of the former king of Missions was sold by Pio Pico to Cot and Jose Pico for $2437. Fremont dispossessed their agent and they failed to gain repossession, the courts deciding that Pico had no right to sell. In 1847 the celebrated Mormon battalion, which Parkman so vividly describes in his Oregon and California Trail, were stationed at San Luis Rey for two months, and later on, a re-enlisted company was sent to take charge of it for a short time. On their departure Captain Hunter, as sub-Indian agent, took charge and found a large number of Indians, amenable to discipline and good workers.

The general statistics from the founding in 1798 to 1834 show 5591 baptisms, 1425 marriages, 2859 deaths. In 1832 there were 27,500 cattle, 2226 horses in 1828, 345 mules in the same year, 28,9133 sheep in 1828, and 1300 goats in 1832.

In 1892 Father J. J. O’Keefe, who had done excellent work at Santa Barbara, was sent to San Luis Rey to repair the church and make it suitable for a missionary college of the Franciscan order. May 12, 1893, the rededication ceremonies of the restored building took place, the bishop of the diocese, the vicar-general of the Franciscan order and other dignitaries being present and aiding in the solemnities. Three old Indian women were also there who heard the mass said at the original dedication of the church in 1802. Since that time Father O’Keefe has raised and expended thousands of dollars in repairing, always keeping in mind the original plans. He now contemplates the restoration, or, rather, rebuilding — for all but the arches of the corridors are entirely gone — of the monastery.

San Luis Rey is now a college for the training of missionaries for the field, and Father J. J. O’Keefe, O. F. M., is working as rapidly as means will allow to reconstruct some of the buildings and use them for the purposes of the college. It is planned to erect over fifty rooms, which will include kitchen, pantry, refectory, library, classrooms, recreation room, infirmary, and rooms for the ” religious.” The building will occupy the site to the left of the old Mission, where the arches of the corridors still remain. It will be a story and a half high, mainly of adobe, made on the ground. The quadrangle will be restored on the old lines, only smaller (about one fourth to one third the size of the former one), and a wash-house or laundry, a bath-house, new water tank, etc., are already built. The remaining space, inside the quadrangle, will be utilized as a house garden. Of course none of the standing arches will be disturbed. Those that are in the area will be utilized, as it is planned to use the corridors for processions as in the old days. The estimated cost is $20,000, exclusive of most of the labor which will be done by the lay brothers of the college. The front wall will be 186 feet long and 14 feet high to the ceilings, and the buildings will extend in wings, 174 feet, back to the end of the church, which is to the north-west. Much of this work is already accomplished, and, possibly, by the time this book is issued the front portion will be erected. But Father O’Keefe is compelled to go slowly, owing to the scarcity of funds, and I can only suggest to my readers who desire to see San Luis Rey restored to something of its former useful activity, that they willingly contribute to aid to that end. Letters with checks, addressed to Father O’Keefe, San Luis Rey Mission, San Diego Co., Calif., will receive grateful acknowledgment.

Of this plaza it is said that after the order of secularization had gone into effect it often saw the excitements of the bull fight. Crowds of spectators used to assemble on the roofs of the corridors, which afforded them an excellent view and perfect safety. And rumor goes even further, and asserts that Don Pio Pico himself, now and again, would assume the role of matador and engage the infuriated animal within, evidently enjoying the hearty applause of his audience.

On the fachada at San Luis Rey are two brackets at the foot of niches for statues. These are built of rounded courses of bevelled brick, moulded to the shape required, thus producing a pretty effect permanently. The pilasters or engaged columns also are of moulded brick to give the curved effects.

Immediately on entering the church one observes door-ways to the right and left, — the one on the right bricked up. It is the door that used to lead into the Mortuary Chapel, later to be described.

A semicircular arch spans the whole church from side to side, about thirty feet, on which the original decorations still remain. These are in rude imitation of marble, as at Santa Barbara, in black and red, with bluish green lines. The wall colorings below are in imitation of black marble.

The holy-water vessels are both gone from their places in the wall, but the original decorations that surrounded them remain.

The main engaged columns, or pilasters, of which there are eight, — four on each side, — consist of a base, with a four-membered wainscot moulding, above which the column rises to within about two feet of the ceiling. Here, equally simple mouldings crown the pilaster. The decoration is imitation of marble. The bricks of which the pilasters are built are burnt, and the corner ones are specially moulded in a rounded device to add a pleasing effect.

Over each window the original distemper decorations remain, stretching out to the sides from a kind of mosaic star.

The choir gallery is over the main entrance, and there the great revolving music stand is still in use, with several of the large and interesting illuminated manuscript singing-books of the early days. In Mission days it was generally the custom to have two chanters, who took care of the singing and the books. These, with all the other singers, stood around the revolving music-stand, on which the large manuscript chorals were placed.

The old byzantine pulpit still occupies its original position at San Luis Rey, but the sounding-board is gone — no one knows whither. This is of a type commonly found in continental churches, the corbel with its conical sides harmonizing with the ten panels and base-mouldings of the box proper. It is fastened to the pilaster which supports the arch above.

The original paint — a little of it — still remains. It appears to have been white panels, lined in red and blue.

It was entered from the side altar, through a doorway pierced through the wall. The steps leading up to it are of red burnt brick. Evidently it was a home product, and was possibly made by one of Padre Peyri’s Indian carpenters, who was rapidly nearing graduation into the ranks of the skilled cabinet-makers.

The Mortuary Chapel, before referred to, is perhaps as fine a piece of work as any in the whole Mission chain. It is beautiful even now in its sad dilapidation. It was crowned with a domed roof of heavy cement. The entrance was by the door in the church to the right of the main entrance. The room is octagonal, with the altar in a recess, over which is a dome of brick, with a small lantern. At each point of the octagon there is an engaged column, built of circular-fronted brick which run to a point at the rear and are thus built into the wall. A three-membered cornice crowns each column, which supports arches that reach from one column to another. There are two windows, one to the southeast, the other northwest. The altar is at the northeast. There are two doorways, with stair-ways which lead to a small outlook over the altar and the whole interior. These were for the watchers of the dead, so that at a glance they might see that nothing was disturbed.

The altar and its recess are most interesting, the rear wall of the former being decorated in classic design.

The original altar table rested upon a vase-like base, built of brick and cement, now in ruins. On the occasion of my last visit, as I sat looking at the sage and other wild plants growing up on the chapel floor, the hens and chickens feeding and scratching, lizards and horned toads moving to and fro, with linnets, larks, and sparrows singing and chirping upon the walls above, I could not help the reflection that Nature pays no attention to the works of the past. She lives only for to-day. If the splendid achievements of architecture of man are neglected, they fall into ruins, and the lowest of the animals and insects come and take possession of them ; the drifting seeds of the humblest weeds find lodgment and grow even in the places once held most sacred. There is no regretting, no mourning, no weeping. Only what is, is, and that must be utilized now.

Father O’Keefe assures me that this chapel is of the third order of St. Francis, the founder of the Franciscan Order. In the oval space over the arch which spans the entrance to the altar are the ” arms ” of the third order, consisting of the Cross and the five wounds (the stigmata) of Christ, which were conferred upon St. Francis as a special sign of divine favor.