California: Mission San Juan Capistrano and the Swallows

Mission San Juan Capistrano Entrance

Mission San Juan Capistrano Entrance

Flower Gardens by Great Stone Church Ruins

Flower Gardens by Great Stone Church Ruins

Statue of Father Junipero Serra and Native American Juaneno Indian Boy in Garden

Statue of Father Junipero Serra and Native American Juaneno Indian Boy in Garden

Stone Arch Ruins of Great Stone Church

Stone Arch Ruins of Great Stone Church

Two Largest Bells Preserved from Great Stone Church (San Vicente and San Juan –cast in 1796)

Two Largest Bells Preserved from Great Stone Church (San Vicente and San Juan –cast in 1796)

Sacred Garden and Fountain

Sacred Garden and Fountain

Altar Covered in Gold Leaf in Serra's Chapel

Altar Covered in Gold Leaf in Serra’s Chapel

Golden Altar is Adorned with 52 Angel Faces. Building is Oldest in California in Current Use.

Golden Altar is Adorned with 52 Angel Faces. Building is Oldest in California in Current Use.

Restored Painting of St. Joseph with Baby Jesus

Restored Painting of St. Joseph with Baby Jesus

Waterlilies Blooming in Fountain

Waterlilies Blooming in Fountain

Vibrant Pink Rock Purslane Flower in Garden

Vibrant Pink Rock Purslane Flower in Garden

Koi in Courtyard Fountain

Koi in Courtyard Fountain

Cactus and Dome in Background of New Mission San Juan Capistrano

Cactus and Dome in Background of New Mission San Juan Capistrano

Altar at New Mission San Juan Capistrano

Altar at New Mission San Juan Capistrano

Murals at New Mission San Juan Capistrano

Murals at New Mission San Juan Capistrano

Song Album Cover for "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano"

Song Album Cover for “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”

Original Sheet Music for “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”. Written by Leon Rene in 1939.

Original Sheet Music for “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano”. Written by Leon Rene in 1939.

Cliff Swallow Pair at Mud Nest

Cliff Swallow Pair at Mud Nest

Swallow Tile Purchased in Gift Shop

Swallow Tile Purchased in Gift Shop

In spring we visited Mission San Juan Capistrano (between San Diego and Los Angeles). This historic church is known as the “Jewel of the California Missions”.   It was founded in 1776 and contains a complex of adobe buildings (including Serra’s Chapel), along with gardens, fountains, and historical displays. The famous “mission grape” was first planted at San Juan Capistrano in 1779, and wine production began in 1783. The mission’s original “Great Stone Church” chapel was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. At the time it was the largest stone building west of the Mississippi. The stone arch ruins are preserved on site, along with the original mission bells. Preservation efforts for the mission began in 1910 by Father St. John O’Sullivan, and restoration continues to the present day.

The city is famous for the return of the swallows to the area every March from Argentina.  To celebrate there are parades, fiestas, and street fairs. The cliff swallows’ return is memorialized in a popular song written by Leon Rene in 1939 called “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” (listen to a recording by the Ink Spots in 1940 at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VUSC37bLuuU).  The story of the swallows at the mission is at:  http://sanjuancapistrano.net/swallows/.

In 1986 a new parish church was built adjacent to the mission that is similar in design and spirit to the original Great Stone Church. In the year 2000 Pope John Paul II honored the new Mission San Juan Capistrano with the title “Basilica”, and in 2003 it was designated a “National Shrine”. The church has 2-foot-thick walls that are engineered to withstand future earthquakes. The motifs on the sanctuary walls were painted over 18 months by Dr. Norman Neuerberg. For inspiration, he studied historical records of the Great Stone Church, and traveled to Father Serra’s homeland in Mallorca, Spain. More info about Mission San Juan Capistrano is at:  http://www.missionsjc.com/ . Click on any of the pictures in this post for more detailed information (including song lyrics).

About Pam
Richard and Pam lived in the San Francisco Bay Area 14 years (1987-1999 and 2008-2011). They lived in Florida 13 years previously, until returning in July 2011 to present. They hope their photography will encourage you to get out and discover nature's beauty in your own backyard, parks, and wild places. Click on any pictures on this blog to see them full size with additional details.

9 Responses to California: Mission San Juan Capistrano and the Swallows

  1. Ingrid says:

    The flower garden looks beautiful and the overall mission interesting. A great collection of photos 🙂

  2. LuAnn says:

    I fell in love with this mission when I visited two years ago. Thanks for the beautiful memories.

  3. mrsbearfoot says:

    What a wonderful tour you’ve given us!

    Lindy

  4. What a beautiful place, Pam. Although my parents always sang the song, I’ve never been. Your photos have inspired me to put it on my wishlist. Thanks! ~Terri

    • Pam says:

      That’s wonderful! And there are plenty of other things to do in the general area. I love both the birds and the song, so it is a great combination.

  5. Kongo says:

    Love your take on the mission at San Juan Capistrano. And we must have similar eyes, Pam, because we both took a lot of photos from exactly the same spot!

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