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Mission San Luis Obispo

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is the 5th mission founded in California. It was founded on September 1st, 1772 by Friar Junipero Serra. Named for Saint Louis, a Bishop of Toulouse.

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Mission San Luis Obispo History

The Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is the 5th mission founded in California. It was founded on September 1st, 1772 by Friar Junipero Serra. Named for Saint Louis, a Bishop of Toulouse. Born in 1274, the son of Charles II, King of Naples. The boy’s uncle was Saint Louis, King of France, and his aunt was Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. After being held for seven years as a hostage in Barcelona, he was ordained a priest, and made his profession a Friar Minor and was consecrated archbishop of Toulouse. His life of devotion to his faith until his death in 1297 was realized by canonization in 1317.

In 1769, Governor Portola’s expedition returning to San Diego from its vain search for Monterey came up on a spacious marshy valley with a large population of grizzly bears. The famished expedition then attacked one of the bears and were lucky that none were killed before they dispatched it. In honor of the occasion, they named the place La Canada de los Osos (Valley of the Bears).

In 1772, the missions at Carmel and San Antonio were near starvation and sent hunting parties to kill the grizzlies and send the meat back to the missions. The men sent back some nine thousand pounds of salted and jerked bear meat. In addition, the men traded other meat with the natives for twenty five loads of edible seeds. The natives were friendly and impressed with the ease of the Spaniards dispatched the bears. Accordingly, Father Serra arrived and selected al low hill near a stream of the finest water, where the founding of the mission was completed.

Father Serra left behind Father Jose Cavaller and five solders and two neophytes to erect the first buildings. There were no native settlements in the valley, but attracted by the building going on, many natives arrived from afar. The local natives eventually were persuaded to be baptized and the colony grew slowly. Not all the natives were peaceful though, in 1776 the padres quarters were burned along with all the log building except for the church and granary. Flaming arrows shot by enemies of the mission neophytes started the blaze. Two of the leaders were captured and sent to Monterey as prisoners, but similar attacks continued. Forced to deal with these attacks, in 1890, the first tile roofs were manufactured. These roofing tiles were the first made in California and were quickly copied by the other missions.

The principal architect of the mission’s prosperity was Father Luis Antonio Martinez who served for thirty-four years. A keen trader he was also frank and critical, with a quick temper that frequently found him in trouble with the Governor. He was arrested and banished in 1830 much to the sorrow of the natives. Father Martinez knew that secularization was coming and prior to his banishment he let the property sink into disrepair. With secularization the natives drove off the livestock and the buildings were allowed to deteriorate such that by 1845 all the property could only bring $510.

During the Mexican war, Fremont surrounded the building believing it to be held by Mexican insurrectionists, only to find it occupied by women and children. Later he sat in judgment on the treason trail of Don Pico, held at the mission, who was found guilty and condemned to death. The sentence was revered days later and he was released.

In 1859, what was left of the mission was returned to the Church. In 1868 the buildings were remodeled to look like a parish church, with the adobe walls encased in white painted siding and a steeple added. This remained in place until 1934 when it was removed and the building restored to its former simple grace and dignity.