Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa on the California Coast

These are older photos (Jonathan and I took these when shooting a beautiful wedding here earlier this year) but I was looking back over my wedding portfolio, and I thought I would share these shots. They’re just so pretty! I love wandering around these old missions, and I hadn’t done so since I was a teen, so going through as an adult was just a treat! I can’t wait to take my little ones here someday soon!
Anyway, enter the wise sage Wikipedia:
In the year 1769, a Spanish expedition led by Gaspar de Portola, 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. Expedition diarist and Franciscan missionary Juan Crespi wrote that the soldiers called the place la Cañada de los Osos (“Valley of the Bears”). Portola followed the same route the following year, on his way to establish the Presidio of Monterey. Missionary president Junipery 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.







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.
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. Starting in 1794 Mission San Luis Obispo went through extensive building operations. 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. The arrival of the bells marked the end of improvements made to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa for many years. 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.








In 1845, Governor Pio Pico declared the Mission buildings for sale and he sold everything except the church for a total of $510. John C. Fremont and his “California Battalion” used the Mission as a base of operations during their war with Mexico in 1846. 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.
The Mission church of San Luis Obispo is unusual in its design in that it is a combination of belfrey and vestibule 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.

Have you visited any of the California missions? Which one is your favorite?