Mission San Juan Capistrano

One of the things I hated about living in the Seattle area was earthquakes and the constant fear of the big one.

Since moving to Idaho, I realized now I mainly have to worry about man-made disasters – or droughts or wildfires I suppose – rather than Mother Nature trying to kill me.

So, while walking through the ancient buildings at Mission San Juan Capistrano it suddenly struck me – I was in earthquake country. And in a building that is 230 years old. And one that has already collapsed once!

The interior of the oldest standing building in California, a chapel built in 1782.

Anyway, there were no earthquakes and no more building collapses and I pushed my irrational fears of earthquakes away and just enjoyed the beauty of a historical site.

The mission was the seventh of 21 to be founded in California by Spain. It was created on Nov. 1, 1776 by Saint Serra and thrived. According to the mission’s website, it had a population of more than 1,000 people and The Great Stone Church, a giant structure.

The Mission began its decline in 1812 when a giant earth quake caused The Great Stone Church to collapse, killing 42 people. The ruins of the church remain today, which is what caused my Southern California-induced anxiety!

The remains of The Great Stone Church in the background with a model of what it looked like before it was destroyed in 1812 by an earthquake.

Preservation efforts are ongoing and if you like history and churches, then this is definitely a place you should visit.

From the remains of the old church to the massive gardens to the paintings and decorations in the sanctuary to the history of the grounds, featuring how Native Americans made their food, clothing, weapons and supplies.

While the stone church mostly collapsed, the mission does feature the oldest standing building in California – a chapel built in 1782. The mission was also where the first vineyard in California was planted, and it is perhaps best known for the annual Return of the Swallows which is traditionally observed every March 19. We didn’t see many swallows, but perhaps we were there at the wrong time.

While the mission is well known for its swallows, we mainly saw tons of hummingbirds and lizards.

A new church was built in 1984 and features plenty of opulence as well as the standard features of a Catholic church.

It is always fun to visit Catholic churches with my wife (who is Catholic, though now goes to a Nazarene church every week) because she can explain what everything means and what is going on.

The interior of the new church built in 1984.

At one point I lost her, only to find her praying at a pew in the new church.

At any rate, it is a really amazing place. Even if you are constantly reminded of the fact that a giant earthquake might strike at any time and kill you.

– Craig Craker

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