Mission San Luis Rey




One of the highlights of our trip to Hollywood for the dedication of the star on the Walk of Fame for Guy Williams, was a trip to the Mission San Luis Rey where several episodes of Zorro were shot.  It is a beautiful place, serene in its antiquity, but filled with the ghosts of a turbulent history.  This is a picture of the famous pepper tree as seen in the episode, "The Ghost of the Mission."  It is the oldest pepper tree in California.  It is so called because of it peppercorn-like fruit.  


The Mission San Luis Rey de Francia was founded in 1798 by Franciscan friars sent by the Spanish government to colonize the region and to build up Spanish holdings in the new world.  The mission was built about halfway between the Mission San Juan Capistrano and the Mission San Diego de Acalá, because it was more than a day's journey between the two existing missions. At that time, missions were built approximately a day's journey apart so the Spanish travelers would not be caught traveling after dark.  

The land was dedicated and before any building had begun, the padres had baptized more than fifty young Luiseño Indians.  A young priest by the name of Fray Peyri was responsible for the building of the new mission and the training and teaching of the Indian neophytes.  Fray Peyri, unlike other priests, stayed at the Mission San Luis Rey until forced to leave California by the Mexican government in 1832.  He was well respected by all and friendly to whomever he met.  The Indians loved him for the kindness he showed them as well as for his cheerful demeanor and energetic zeal.  He was the architect for the Mission San Luis Rey, and it was his enthusiasm and hard work that many feel is the reason for the Mission's resounding success and for its title as the King of the Missions.  

In 1802, the Mission church was finished.  It was 138 feet long, 19 feet wide and 17 feet high.  Fray Peyri designed it large enough to allow everyone who wanted to attend Mass to have room to worship.  By 1804, all of the main buildings were finished.  By 1811, the population of the Mission was so large that a new and larger church had to be built.  That one, (the one that exists today) is 175 feet long, 28 feet wide and 30 feet high and was designed to hold up to 1000 people.  The other buildings, which surrounded a square, included the friars' quarters, dormitories for the neophytes, workshops, storage rooms and an infirmary.   There were also soldiers barracks, mills, tanneries, other workshops and storehouses.  

In 1821, California became part of the newly independent Mexico and the new government began a campaign of secularization.  They took the Mission and its lands from the Church and parceled portions out to the Indians.  On January 17, 1832, because of a Mexican edict that said that all men under 60 years old who had been born in Spain had to return to their mother country, Fray Peyri was forced to leave the Mission San Luis Rey.  It is said that many of his Indian followers tried to swim out to his ship to get him to stay, but it was to no avail.  

After the departure of Fray Peyri, the Mission fell on hard times.  The neophytes, feeling the loss of their kindly-dispositioned leader, did not want to stay at the Mission.  They refused to work for the friars who took Peyri's place.  In 1834, the Mission was handed over to the Mexican government.  In 1846, the Mission was sold to members of the then governor's family for approximately 2,500 dollars.  Everything of value was stripped from the Mission and it was then abandoned.  In 1850, the Mission became part of the United States, which had won the Mexican War.  On March 16, 1865, shortly before his assassination, President Abraham Lincoln returned the Mission San Luis Rey de Francia to the Catholic Church.  

The Mission remained abandoned, in its damaged and decayed state until 1892, when several Franciscan friars came from Mexico to save it.  For several decades, restoration of the Mission, begun by Friar Joseph O'Keefe, continued.  In 1922, the Mission was restored enough for a movie to be filmed there.  By 1931, the church had been restored close to the original design by Fray Peyri.  Restoration of other parts of the Mission continued and in 1957, episodes of the television show, Zorro were filmed at the Mission San Luis Rey.  In 1970, the United States Department of the Interior made the mission a National Historic Landmark.  With this move, the Mission buildings were protected from being changed or demolished.   

The Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is a working mission.  Masses are held each week, there are retreats, there is a museum, and there are many artifacts left from the days of Spanish colonization and Mexican control.   Although the past two hundred years have not always been kind to the Mission, it has weathered the storms of change and neglect, and is a testament of the strength and resolve of the people who have called California their home.   The Mission San Luis Rey is also a testament of the determination of those who love the past, cherish it's lessons and are determined to preserve the Mission forever for those yet to be born. 

Information from Mission San Luis Rey de Francia, by Jennifer Quasha, and San Luis Rey Mission; the King of the Missions, by Fray Zephyrin Engelhardt.  My thanks also to Father Ben R. Innes.


The arch is where publicity shots were taken of Guy, as Zorro and Britt Lomond, as Capt. Monastario.     That is all that is left of an original wall and entrance to the Mission.  


Is this not a beautiful place?  This is one of the buildings behind the main building.  If I understood correctly, it is for the use of those coming to the Mission for a retreat.  


(Left) This is the walkway along the front of the Mission.  Can't you visualize all the frightened soldiers running out of their rooms when Zorro scared them in "The Ghost of the Mission?"


(Above) This is Father Ben Innes, (in brown robe), who graciously took us on the Zorro tour.  What a wonderful man he is.  


One thing that I learned was that the Mission is in dire need of funds.  It does not get funding from the state of California and subsists only on the moneys collected from tourists and from donations.  One goal that Father Ben and the staff at the Mission have is to connect to city water, but so far they have not been allowed to.  So if there was a fire at the Mission, most likely it would burn to the ground as the well system is inadequate.  There is restoration that needs to be done, simple maintenance for buildings of that age, along with the day to day expenses.  That is why projects like the Mission Bench Project have been so very important to the Mission.  If you would like to donate to the Mission San Luis Rey, please use the information below to contact them.  If  you are interested in a retreat, or just want to know more information; mailing and phoning information is below:  

Mission San Luis Rey
4050 Mission Avenue
Oceanside, CA 92057-6402
Phone (760) 757-3651
Fax (760) 757-4613                    

mailto:museum@sanluisrey.org  mailto:info@sanluisrey.org


Wendell & Guy Williams, jr. standing near a gate in an inner courtyard.  They had snuck in to give us an exhibition.  And boy, did they!   



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