California Central Coast Travel Guide
San Luis Obispo County Spanish Missions
by Joseph A. Sprince - Photography by Gerald B. Allen
The San Luis Obispo County Spanish Missions Section of the California Central Coast Travel Guide features Mission San Miguel Arcangel outside of Paso Robles and Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa in downtown San Luis Obispo.
Guide to San Luis Obispo County Spanish Missions
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Between 1769 and 1823, Spain's Order of Franciscan Missionaries founded a chain of 21 missions along the coast of modern day California on the El Camino Real, the coast highway of its day. The missions strengthened the Spanish presence in the new world while bringing Christianity, sometimes violently, to the native peoples as well as European trade and crafts. The era of the missions came to an end when Mexico achieved its independence from Spain, then transferred control away (the "secularization") from the Catholic Church in 1834.
All of the missions have been to some extent restored and are open to visitation today. Some continue to be working churches. Each brings alive the early history of California. Many also feature beautiful buildings and furnishings and displays of artifacts from the past.
Mission San Miguel Arcangel, Paso Robles
Mission San Miguel Arcangel was the 16th mission founded, in 1797. The mission was quickly accepted by the many friendly Native Americans in the area who helped construct an adobe brick church in two years. After secularization in 1834, the property was given to the Indians who were unsuccessful in running it, an it was sold into private hands in 1846. In 1928 it was returned to the Franciscans to be used as a monastery and a parish church.
While the exterior of the church was simple, the interior was elaborately decorated by a Spanish artist. Painted scenes include false balconies and pillars, archways, and imitation marble. The original paintwork has been preserved.
The earthquake of 2003 severely damaged the church. Some phases of restoration have been completed and the historic old convento, museum, gift shop, courtyard, church, sacristy, cemetery and retreat wing are now open to the public. For restoration updates, please visit their website (listed below) or call (805) 467-3256. The mission is located nine miles north of Paso Robles, off of US-101.
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Luis Obispo
Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was the fifth California mission founded, in 1772, by Father Serra. While many local natives were friendly, some were not. The hostiles took to shooting flaming arrows into the original wooden buildings. The missionaries re-built with adobe walls and red clay roof tiles, the first roof tiles made in California. Red roof tiles are now a signature trademark of dwellings and other buildings all over the Southwest.
After secularization in 1834, the property was returned to the Church in 1859. By 1868, the mission was remodeled and opened as a local parish church. It remains active to this day, with a regular congregation, daily services, schools, and numerous community activities and services. Located in the heart of downtown San Luis Obispo, Mission Plaza is the site of many community events and social gatherings.
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