Man on a Mission: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Man on a Mission

Man on a Mission

Editor’s note: Today, we continue our special series with Kirk Whitney – “Man on a Mission” will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney’s pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH

Our first visit to San Juan Capistrano was part of a weekend trip to visit this and two other missions; San Luis Rey and San Diego de Alcala. Our second visit was three weeks later. We returned because my camera malfunctioned on our first visit, ruining most of our photographs.

I was mildly annoyed at having to return, but glad to have come back in the long run. We were coming to Los Angeles that weekend anyway and the second visit allowed us to see things we missed the first time around. We also had the chance to attend Mass at the San Juan Capistrano Basilica, their parish church next door and spend some time wandering the streets of San Juan Capistrano’s Historic Downtown District.

San Juan Capistrano bills itself as the “Jewel of the Missions”. The Mission is unique and its grounds are possibly the most beautiful you will find among the missions. What makes it interesting among is that the centerpiece of the grounds is not a restored church, but the ruins of one. You might think that a ruin is a poor substitute for a restored church, but the opposite is true. The Church at San Juan Capistrano was unique among the Missions. It was a massive stone structure built between 1797 and 1806. The church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. The carefully preserved ruins that remain today are perhaps the most stunning visual feature to be found at any mission.

Though the massive stone church was leveled in the quake, the original mission church, a humble adobe structure, now known as the Serra Chapel survived. It is one of the oldest churches in continuous use in the United States and the only remaining church in which Father Junipero Serra is known to have said Mass. The Chapel is used by the parish for morning Masses on weekdays and early morning Latin Mass on Sundays.

We did not pop next door to visit the Basilica on our first trip. This was a mistake I was glad to have corrected upon our return. Although the church is a modern structure, I realized at some point during Mass that it replicates the shape, scale and key architectural features of the great stone church. ( I may have come to this realization as my mind wandered during the homily, sorry.). I would encourage anyone visiting the Mission to take time to visit the Basilica as well. It is a beautiful church with a warm and amiable congregation.

Allow yourself several hours to visit the Mission. There is a lot to see, and a lot to hear as well. San Juan Capistrano has a sophisticated, self guided tour included with the admission. Visitors are given a hand held receiver to carry with them. As you make your way around the Mission, a visitors map has numbers marked for various locations. If you want information about what you are seeing, you can punch the number on the map into the receiver to hear a mini lecture on that particular location or artifact. These were interesting, well produced and greatly enhanced our visit.

If you were only able to visit one California Mission, San Juan Capistrano may well be the one to see. Its large, beautiful gardens, well preserved ruins, meticulously restored chapel, rugged buildings and well designed museum cover all the bases. Whether your interest is religious, historical, architectural or botanical, you are likely to find something that appeals to you. Combine the Mission visit with a visit to the Basilica next door, a walk through the Historic Downtown District surrounding the Mission and perhaps lunch at one of the many restaurants nearby and you can make an entire day of it.

View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney


About Author

We welcome guest contributors who graciously volunteer their writing for our readers. Please support our guest writers by visiting their sites, purchasing their work, and leaving comments to thank them for sharing their gifts here on To inquire about serving as a guest contributor, contact

Leave A Reply

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.