- Journal of SD History
Mission San Luis Rey
San Luis Rey de Francia, "King of Missions," was the eighteenth of the Franciscan establishments in California; and the second founded in what is now the County of San Diego-second therefore on El Camino Real. In respect of artistry, grandeur and general prosperity it long stood preeminent. Even today the refinement and wide culture of its founder, Fr. Lasuen, and of its first superior, Fr. Antonio Peyri, seem to pervade corridor, patio, garden and churchyard. One feels that very rare souls built and by their lives forever blessed this great spiritual enterprise.
Fifty-four Indians were baptized June 13, 1798, the day Mission San Luis Rey site was dedicated. In July a thousand adobe bricks were ready for the first permanent structure. The church was Of adobe, faced with burnt brick, 30 feet by 189 feet, roofed with "tile of clay." The mortuary chapel was unique among the early churches.
In 1818 San Luis Rey with its six mission ranches, Pala, Santa Margarita, San Jacinto, Santa Ysabel, Temecula and San Pedro, was at the height of its prosperity; the richest, the most populous of all such establishments in California.
Strife engendered by Mexican innovations warned Fr. Peyri, who at sixty-seven years of age, was still in charge, that with secularization the missions would be ruined. Discouraged, he retired; sailing from San Diego on the Pocahontas January 17, 1832. Luisenos demonstrated their affection for him by following down to the bay shore, two even swimming out to the ship and sailing away, forever lost to their former homes.
At San Luis Rey, as at Mission San Diego, American troops, including a part of the Mormon battalion, were quartered at the close of the Mexican war; animals having been stabled in the very church.
Before he went away Fr. Peyri planted certain seeds which had been given him by a sailor who could explain only that they came from South America. They sprouted vigorously and after being transplanted grew quickly into tall saplings - the first "pepper" (schinus molle) trees in California. A row stood outside the cloister at San Luis Rey, but were destroyed by mules and horses. One single tree of Father Peyri's planting still grows in the west enclosure, a part of the old garden, a real pioneer among California trees. After the withdrawal of the troops San Luis Rey fell into decay; the little village of the same name, famous for "poker bets and large drinks," grew up nearby. In 1931 restoration of the mission buildings was begun, with the result that they are today, in charge again of Franciscans, among the finest remaining examoples of early mission architecture. The two gargoyle fountains, unearthed in a neighboring swamp, have been pronounced the only specimens of western Indian sculpture.
[From an article by Winifred Davidson in Carl Heilbron's History of San Diego, 1936]
The Smallpox Fear of 1862-1863 at Mission San Luis Rey
Take the San Diego County Mission Quiz.
San Diego County Historical Landmark #239