Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mission San Luis Rey de Francia: the "King of Missions"

On our way back to Murrieta from Mission San Diego de Alcala, we headed up the coast to Oceanside to see our second Mission of the day: San Luis Rey de Francia. San Luis Rey was the largest and most populous of the California missions in its heyday, with thousands of head of cattle and sheep, olive groves, orchards, and vineyards. It was named in honor of King Louis IX of France, hence the nickname "King of Missions." 

San Luis Rey was founded on June 13, 1798 by Father Fermin Lasuen and was the eighteenth in the series of 21 missions built by the padres in Alta California. 


When we visited yesterday, the museum, visitor center and offices were all closed to allow staff to attend a funeral mass for a Brother Kelly Cullen. In fact, services had just finished when we arrived, so we spent most of our time just walking around the grounds (although the church was open, so we were able to go in and see that). 

Bougainvillea, cacti, succulents and agaves at the entry.

Red Fairyduster (Calliandra californica?) growing in a planter bed.

San Luis Rey was abandoned in the 1830s and fell into ruin after the Mexican government secularized all the California missions. After secularization, Governor Pio Pico ended up selling some of the missions, including San Luis Rey in 1846, to his relatives for a fraction of their value (nice to be related to the Governor). President Abraham Lincoln returned the missions to the Catholic Church in 1865, but San Luis Rey remained unoccupied until 1892 when restoration efforts were initiated.

The current church, the 3rd one in this location, was built in 1811. Today, it is a working mission and is home to a community of Franciscan Friars.

Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis)? next to the bell tower. Cemetery.

Gorgeous fall foliage on a Western Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). Cemetery.

Western Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa).

One ginormous California Pepper Tree (Schinus molle). 

The first California Pepper Tree (i.e., Peruvian Pepper Tree), was planted at San Luis Rey in 1830. We were not able to see this historic tree yesterday as the gate to that part of the grounds was locked (perhaps due to the funeral service). The one taken in this photo was growing in the cemetery. Today, these trees can literally be found growing EVERYWHERE in cultivated and other landscapes throughout California. They are considered invasive and can displace native trees, so they are not exactly a fav of mine. However, the gnarled and towering grandeur of the really old specimens is still something to behold.

Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla). Cemetery.



  1. Interesting posts. I do like history and early California is a new subject for me. Also like the birds! Thanks

  2. Another fabulous post! You really are a woman on a Mission (sorry, couldn't resist) :P Even though it's not native, that Peruvian Pepper tree really is very impressive. I don't think I've ever seen one so large!

  3. The folk-art takes my breath away. The ceiling, yes, but that particular shade of blue on the arches. And they knew how to landscape in a dry climate, didn't they?

  4. Troutbirder, thanks for visiting my blog. I've lived in California for 27 years now, but my interest in the state's early history has only recently surfaced. I hope to have many happy adventures trekking out to see all the missions.

    Clare, your pun is indeed correct - it's pretty hard to stop me when I'm on a mission! (and my hubbie has learned that the hard way). The pepper trees I see along the freeways and in residential landscapes are pint-sized compared to the massive specimens at San Luis Rey.

    Altadenahiker, when I first walked into the church it was sooo incredibly dark that I couldn't even make out the pews. I think having just come in from sunlight made everything inside decidedly indiscernible. Anyways, the camera did its job and these shots came out surprisingly clear. All I can say is that I, too, was wowed by the blues!

  5. My local canyon has the Peruvian peppers, lots that are obviously planted and a few others that seem to have escaped the boundaries. They're really pretty trees so you can see why people plant them. But gosh I wish they were better behaved--both in gardens and in the wilds. Some of my local native plant folks are trying their best to be sure to only call these PERUVIAN peppers so folks don't get the idea they're natives. I'm trying to follow their lead.

  6. What lovely light you have in your photos - I really miss that type of light at this time of year. I'm only used to seeing pepper trees here as little bonsai trees about 12 inches tall. I don't like trimming them as they smell abit lol. The architecture is beautiful throughout your photos :)

  7. James, you're right - by force of habit, many of us call this tree a "California" Pepper, and that is very misleading. In fact, I was just browsing through a book put out by the Coachella Valley Water District - "Lush & Efficient Gardening in the Coachella Valley" - and it lists the 'California' Pepper as one of their recommended plants for desert landscaping - yikes! They do note that the tree originates from the Peruvian Andes, but still...

    Rosie - thanks! The sunlight is generally more diffuse this time of year, which can be either good or bad for outdoor photography Thank goodness for all those camera settings and also for Photoshop, when those not-so-great photos need some tweaking :)