Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Coordinates: 35°16′50″N 120°39′52″W / 35.28056°N 120.66444°W / 35.28056; -120.66444
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Missíon San Luis Obispo De Tolosa
Missíon San Luis Obispo De Tolosa
Missión San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in 2011.
Missíon San Luis Obispo De Tolosa is located in California
Missíon San Luis Obispo De Tolosa
Location in California
Location728 Monterey St.
San Luis Obispo, California 93401
Coordinates35°16′50″N 120°39′52″W / 35.28056°N 120.66444°W / 35.28056; -120.66444
Name as foundedLa Misión de San Luís Obispo de Tolosa[1]
English translationThe Mission of Saint Louis Bishop of Toulouse
PatronSaint Louis of Anjou, Bishop of Toulouse, France
Nickname(s)"Prince of the Missions"[2]
"Mission in the Valley of Bears" [3]
"The Accidental Mission" [4]
Founding dateSeptember 1, 1772 [3]
Founding priest(s)Father Presidente Junípero Serra[5]
Founding OrderFifth
Military districtThird [6]
Native tribe(s)
Spanish name(s)
Native place name(s)Tilhini[7]
Baptisms2,644 [8]
Marriages763 [8]
Burials2,268 [8]
Governing bodyDiocese of Monterey
Current useParish Church / Museum
Reference no.325[9]

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (Spanish: Misión San Luis Obispo de Tolosa) is a Spanish mission founded September 1, 1772 by Father Junípero Serra in San Luis Obispo, California. Named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse, the mission is the namesake of San Luis Obispo.

The Mission of San Luis Obispo is unusual in its design, in that its combination of belfry and vestibule are found nowhere else among the California missions.[10] Like other churches, the main nave is short and narrow, but at the San Luis Obispo Mission, there is a secondary nave of almost equal size situated to the right of the altar, making it the only L-shaped mission church in California.


In 1769, Gaspar de Portolá traveled through California on his way to the Bay of Monterey and traveled through the San Luis Obispo area.[11] Expedition diarist and Franciscan missionary Juan Crespí wrote that the soldiers called the place "llano de los osos", or the "plain of the bears".[citation needed] Portola followed the same route the following year, on his way to establish the Presidio of Monterey. Missionary president Junípero Serra, traveling by sea, met the Portola party there and founded San Carlos Borremeo, in Monterey, which was moved to Carmel the following year.[11]

When food supplies started to dwindle at the mission, Serra remembered the stories of the "valley of the bears." He decided to send a hunting expedition to San Luis Obispo to help feed the Spanish and neophytes (natives that converted to Christianity) in Monterey. The success of the hunting expedition caused Junípero Serra to consider building a mission in that area.[citation needed] Upon further investigation, he was convinced that San Luis Obispo would be a perfect site for a mission, based on its surplus of natural resources, good weather and the Chumash, a local Native American tribe who could be used as labor, often by means of enslavement.[12] The mission became the fifth in the mission chain founded by Father Junípero Serra.[13] Serra himself was known for intimidating and controlling native subjects, and once baptized, the Chumash were not allowed to leave the missions, nor were the generations to follow.[14]

Father Serra sent an expedition down south to San Luis Obispo to start building the mission, and on September 1, 1772, a cross was erected near San Luis Obispo Creek and Serra celebrated the first mass. Following the first mass, Father Junípero Serra left the responsibility of construction to Father Jose Cavaller.[11] Father Cavaller used Chumash labor in building the palisades, which would serve as temporary buildings for the mission. Native American tribes set these buildings ablaze in an act of resistance against European colonization. The buildings were rebuilt using adobe and tile structures.[15]

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa as it looked circa 1900. Note that the wooden belfry has been removed and the chapel façade has been modified substantially in the recent photo below.

Beginning in 1794 Mission San Luis Obispo went through extensive building operations.[15] Buildings to accommodate the nearby Native Americans and many improvements to the mission, including storerooms, residences for single women, soldiers barracks and mills were added.[11] The renovation was finished after completion of the quadrangle in 1819, and celebrated a year later by the arrival of two mission bells from Lima, Peru.[16] The arrival of the bells marked the end of improvements made to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa for many years.[13] In 1830 Father Luis Gil y Taboada took over the mission, but he died three years later. In 1842, the death of Father Ramon Abella marked the last Franciscan at the mission.[13]

Rancho period (1834–1849)[edit]

In 1845, Governor Pío Pico sold the San Luis Obispo Mission to Captain John Wilson for $510.[17] John C. Frémont and his "California Battalion" used the mission as a base of operations during their war with Mexico in 1846 (see Bear Flag Revolt).[citation needed] The mission fell to ruins during the period of secularization and the priests who were left would rent out rooms to help support the mission.[citation needed]

California statehood (since 1850)[edit]

The Mission San Luís Obispo de Tolosa became the first courthouse and jail in San Luis Obispo County, California.[17] In 1850, when California became a part of the United States, the first California bishop, Joseph Alemany, petitioned the Government to return some of the mission lands back to the Church.[11] Since then, it has undergone major civic, political and structural changes. In the 1880s, the front portico and bell loft were removed when weakened by an earthquake. An attempt was made to "modernize" the structures, and the colonnades along the front of the convento wing were razed and the Church and residence were covered with wooden clapboard.[17] A New England–style belfry was added. The changes protected the structure from further decay, although significantly altering the facade of the buildings. In the 1930s, during the pastorship of Fr. John Harnett, the buildings underwent extensive restoration to transform them back to early mission style.[17] The 1893 annex was extended in 1948.[17] The mission is the center of the busy downtown area, and functions as a Catholic parish church for the City of San Luis Obispo in the Diocese of Monterey.

Statue of Junípero Serra in 2015

Mission plaza[edit]

In 1970 the Mission was recognized as the center of the City of San Luis Obispo, with the dedication of Mission Plaza.[13] Mayor Ken Schwartz worked with students from Cal Poly to develop a plan to convince voters to close Monterey Street in front of the mission.[18] Construction of a plaza began in 1969 and the plaza was dedicated in 1970.[18] A statue of Junípero Serra was installed on the grounds facing the public Mission Plaza. The attention to the statues of Junípero Serra expanded during the George Floyd protests to include monuments of individuals associated with the controversy over the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas. The statue was moved into storage on the grounds in 2020.[19][20]

The plaza in front of the mission often serves as a location for demonstrations and protests in the San Luis Obispo county.[21][22]

Pro-Palestine rally and march at the San Luis Obispo mission, California, on October 21, 2023

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leffingwell, Randy (2005). California Missions and Presidios: The History & Beauty of the Spanish Missions. Stillwater, Minnesota: Voyageur Press. p. 85. ISBN 0-89658-492-5.
  2. ^ Schulte-Peevers, Andrea (1996). California. Oakland, California: Lonely Planet Publications. p. 682. ISBN 1-74059-951-9.
  3. ^ a b Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. San Diego, California: Advantage Publishers Group. p. 56. ISBN 1-59223-319-8.
  4. ^ Ruscin, Terry (1999). Mission Memoirs. San Diego, California: Sunbelt Publications. p. 53. ISBN 0-932653-30-8.
  5. ^ Ruscin (1999), p. 196.
  6. ^ Forbes, Alexander (1839). California: A History of Upper and Lower California. Cornhill, London: Smith, Elder and Co. p. 202.
  7. ^ Ruscin (1999), p. 195.
  8. ^ a b c Krell, Dorothy, ed. (1979). The California Missions: A Pictorial History. Menlo Park, California: Sunset Publishing. p. 315. ISBN 0-376-05172-8. As of December 31, 1832; information adapted from Engelhardt's Missions and Missionaries of California.
  9. ^ "Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks.
  10. ^ Al Abashian, Roubina (March 11, 2022). "The Ultimate Guide to Visiting San Luis Obispo". Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  11. ^ a b c d e "Visit". Mission San Luis Obispo de Toulosa. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  12. ^ Congress, Allison Herrera Image credit: Library of; April 29, HABS CAL; 27-JOLO V; 1; edition, 2019 From the print (April 29, 2019). "Indigenous educators fight for an accurate history of California". www.hcn.org. Retrieved August 31, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ a b c d "Mission History". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011.
  14. ^ "Elias Castillo's 'Cross of Thorns' presents a bleak picture of California history". Santa Cruz Sentinel. March 16, 2015. Retrieved August 31, 2021.
  15. ^ a b "San Luis Obispo de Tolosa". Archived from the original on January 28, 2010.
  16. ^ "Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa". California Mission History. Archived from the original on January 21, 2010.
  17. ^ a b c d e "Visit Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa: History". Mission San Luis Obispo de Toulosa. Retrieved March 9, 2021.
  18. ^ a b Ferreira, Gabby (October 20, 2019). ""Kenneth Schwartz, former SLO mayor and father of Mission Plaza, dies at 94"". The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Retrieved March 8, 2020.
  19. ^ Brest, Jessica (June 23, 2020). "Saint Junipero Serra statue removed from Mission San Luis Obispo". KEYT.
  20. ^ Fountain, Matt (June 22, 2020). "Catholic Church removes Junípero Serra statue from San Luis Obispo Mission". The Tribune (San Luis Obispo). Retrieved July 4, 2020.
  21. ^ Rajagopal, Bulbul (October 21, 2023). "SLO County residents of Palestinian descent rally". New Times SLO. Retrieved November 6, 2023.
  22. ^ KSBY Staff (October 21, 2023). "Hundreds of people gathered for a rally in downtown SLO in response to the Israel-Hamas war". KSBY. Retrieved November 6, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]