Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

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Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa
Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa
Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa in 2011.
Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa is located in California
Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa
Location of Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa in California
Location 728 Monterey St.
San Luis Obispo, California 93401
Coordinates 35°16′50.5344″N 120°39′52.3506″W / 35.280704000°N 120.664541833°W / 35.280704000; -120.664541833Coordinates: 35°16′50.5344″N 120°39′52.3506″W / 35.280704000°N 120.664541833°W / 35.280704000; -120.664541833
Name as founded La Misión de San Luís Obispo de Tolosa [1]
English translation The Mission of Saint Louis Bishop of Toulouse
Patron Saint 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 date September 1, 1772 [3]
Founding priest(s) Father Presidente Junípero Serra [5]
Founding Order Fifth
Military district Third [6]
Native tribe(s)
Spanish name(s)
Native place name(s) Tilhini [7]
Baptisms 2,644 [8]
Marriages 763 [8]
Burials 2,268 [8]
Governing body Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey
Current use Parish Church / Museum
Reference no. 325[9]

Misión San Luís Obispo de Tolosa is a Spanish mission founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra in the present-day city of San Luis Obispo, California. Named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse, the mission is the namesake of the city of San Luis Obispo and San Luis Obispo County.

The Mission church of San Luis Obispo is unusual in its design in that its combination of belfry and vestibule is found nowhere else among the California missions. The main nave is short and narrow (as is the case with other mission churches), but at San Luis Obispo there is a secondary nave of almost equal size situated to the right of the altar, making this the only L-shaped mission church among all of the California missions. The mission church today is a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey.


In the year 1769, a Spanish Expedition led by Gaspar de Portolà, on a journey north from San Diego to find the Bay of Monterey described in 1602 by Sebastian Vizcaino, became the first Europeans to see the San Luis Obispo area.[10] Expedition diarist and Franciscan missionary Juan Crespí wrote that the soldiers called the place la Cañada de los Osos ("Valley of the Bears").[4] 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 Carmel Mission.

In 1772, 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 kill the bears in order to feed the Spanish and the neophytes (natives that converted to Christianity) in Monterey. The huge success of the hunting expedition caused Father Junípero Serra to consider building a mission in that area. 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 friendly Indian tribe who could provide the labor for constructing the mission. The mission became the fifth in the mission chain founded by Father Junípero Serra.[11]

Father Serra sent an expedition down south to San Luis Obispo to start building the mission. On September 1, 1772 a cross was erected near San Luis Obispo Creek and Father Junípero Serra celebrated the first mass, marking the site as the destination for yet another mission. However, briefly following the first mass, Father Junípero Serra returned to San Diego and left the responsibility of the mission's construction to Father Jose Cavaller. Father Cavaller, five soldiers and two neophytes began building what is now Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Father Cavaller received help in the building of the Mission from the local friendly tribe, the Chumash Indians. The Chumash helped construct palisades, which would serve as temporary buildings for the Mission. However, due to several Indian tribes which were determined to get rid of European settlers, they set these buildings ablaze. Because of this, Father Cavaller was forced to rebuild the buildings using adobe and tile structures.[12]

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.

Starting in 1794 Mission San Luis Obispo went through extensive building operations.[12] They helped build numerous buildings to accommodate the nearby Indians. They also made many improvements and additions to the Mission. The renovation was finally finished when they completed the quadrangle in 1819, celebrated a year later by the arrival of two mission bells from Lima, Peru.[10] The arrival of the bells marked the end of improvements made to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa for many years.[11] In 1830 Fr. Luis Gil y Taboada took over the mission, but he died three years later. Then in 1842 the death of Fr. Ramon Abella marked the last Franciscan at the mission.[11]

In 1845, Governor Pío Pico with the declared the Mission buildings for sale and he sold everything except the church for a total of $510. 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). The Mission fell into ruins during the period of secularization and the priests who were left would rent out rooms to help support the Mission. The Mission San Luís Obispo de Tolosa became the first courthouse and jail in San Luis Obispo County, California. In 1872, during the 100th anniversary of the Mission, improvements began, but real restoration did not begin until 1933. The Mission is still the center of the busy downtown area, and functions as a Roman Catholic parish church for the City of San Luis Obispo in the Diocese of Monterey. Although many changes have come to the Mission, it remains the center of town. In 1970 the Mission was recognized as the center of the City of San Luis Obispo, with the dedication of Mission Plaza.[11]


In 1602, the Spanish began to show interest in California and sent Sebastián Vizcaíno, a pearl fisher, to explore the area. Vizcaino traveled the coast naming many of the cities that are important to the California coast today such as San Diego, Santa Barbara and Monterey. Spain finally chose to create Vizcaino's suggested chain of missions when it was proven that California was indeed part of the continent. The goal of creating the chain was given to the Franciscan Order. While Spain had economic motives for establishing a stronghold in California, the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church also had religious motives.[13] With these factors in mind the missions were created in order to control the coast so that the ships from Spain would remain safe as well as bring the Natives to the Catholic faith. Re-education became the method for reaching Spain's religious and economic goals as they strived to convert the Indians to Catholicism as well as make them loyal Spanish subjects.

To accomplish these goals the Spaniards had to convince the Indians that the Catholic faith was better than their own and had much more to offer them. Once an Indian decided to convert to the Catholic faith he was baptized and became a neophyte. Once a neophyte, the Indian lived in the Mission and attended masses regularly. The Spaniards taught the new neophytes more in depth aspects of the Catholic faith and introduced them to the European lifestyle.[13] As a part of mission life the Indians were taught Spanish and Latin for services, how to read music, sing as well as how to be skilled weavers, seamstresses, carpenters, tile makers, farmers and cattle herders. These lessons prepared the Indians to be a part of the Church as well as of the self-sustaining community of the mission where everyone contributed work to the success of the mission.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leffingwell, p. 85
  2. ^ Schulte-Peevers, p. 682
  3. ^ a b Yenne, p. 56
  4. ^ a b Ruscin, p. 53
  5. ^ Ruscin, p. 196
  6. ^ Forbes, p. 202
  7. ^ Ruscin, p. 195
  8. ^ a b c Krell, p. 315: 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. ^ a b "Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa". Archived from the original on 21 January 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Mission History". Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. 
  12. ^ a b "San Luis Obispo de Tolosa". Archived from the original on 28 January 2010. 
  13. ^ a b "Mision San Carlos, Carmel". Archived from the original on 27 October 2007. 


  • Forbes, Alexander (1839). California: A History of Upper and Lower California. Smith, Elder and Co., Cornhill, London. 
  • Jones, Terry L. and Kathryn A. Klar (eds.) (2007). California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity. Altimira Press, Landham, Maryland. ISBN 0-7591-0872-2. 
  • Krell, Dorothy (ed.) (1979). The California Missions: A Pictorial History. Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, California. ISBN 0-376-05172-8. 
  • Leffingwell, Randy (2005). California Missions and Presidios: The History & Beauty of the Spanish Missions. Voyageur Press, Inc., Stillwater, Minnesota. ISBN 0-89658-492-5. 
  • Paddison, Joshua (ed.) (1999). A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heyday Books, Berkeley, California. ISBN 1-890771-13-9. 
  • Ruscin, Terry (1999). Mission Memoirs. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, California. ISBN 0-932653-30-8. 
  • Schulte-Peevers, Andrea (1996). California. Lonely Planet Publications, Oakland, California. ISBN 1-74059-951-9. 
  • Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. Advantage Publishers Group, San Diego, California. ISBN 1-59223-319-8. 
  • Mission Tour
  • Chumash Indians
  • Chumash History
  • Spanish Missions

External links[edit]