CALIFORNIA MISSIONS

In the 16th century, Spain was concerned that both Russia, approaching from Alaska, and the British, from the East, were encroaching on their territory Alta (Upper) California. To protect themselves, King Phillip III ordered the establishment of a series of Catholic Missions along the coast for the purpose of converting the native inhabitants into loyal Catholics and providing a protected path for settlers and supplies up the coast from Mexico and Baja California.

The Jesuits, who had previously settled in the area and established their own missions were replaced by the Franciscans who were far more sensitive to the King's secular ambitions and Father Junipero Serra was put in charge. The twenty-one missions would end up spanning 650 miles with each mission placed at no more than one day's journey from the one next to it.

The first mission in the chain was founded near San Diego Bay in 1679. Due to the belligerence of some of the Indians the mission was moved six miles inland and placed adjacent to a presidio for protection - it was Mission San Diego de Alcala. The restored church seen today was not completed until 1813.

Strategically, key missions were to be placed at major bays - ports for shipping - along the coast and included Monterey Bay and San Francisco. To connect these, other missions were planned including Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and San Juan Capistrano. The Central Valley area was also perceived as important because of the large populations of Native Americans living there and so, additional missions were planned; including Santa Inez, San Miguel, San Jose and Sonoma.

Beginning in the 1830's, the Missions were secularized and their vast property holdings dispersed. The missions fell in disrepair - some due to fire and others due to earthquakes. But, by the 1950's, all of the missions had been taken over by various organizations and restored to the point that they have become major California destinations. Some remain active and continue to host church services and other events.

Over the years, U.S. Group Planners has orchestrated a number of group tours centering on the California Mission theme. Primarily for religious groups, these customized tours have included private masses, docent tours and historical tours of the missions.

Please contact us for additional information or if you may have a group interested in such a program.

Mission San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo was Father Junipero's second mission and headquarters
Mission San Juan Bautista (St.John the Baptist) was the fifteenth mission and located in the middle of the San Juan Valley in 1797
Bell tower of Mission San Juan Bautista
Padre Fountain in Garden