California is known for its various Spanish missions, each with its own distinct characteristics. These differences can be seen in their founders, reasons for establishment, founding dates, and decline patterns. Among these missions, San Luis Rey de Francia stands out as an especially unique example.
San Luis Rey de Francia, a mission located in present-day Oceanside, California (www.athanasius.com), was founded by Fermin Francisco Lasuen on June 13, 1798. It was named after King Luis IX of France, who led crusades to the Holy Land in the 13th century. The primary goal of this mission was to convert Native Americans to Christianity. Father Antonio Peyri oversaw its construction and served as its administrator for an impressive 34 years. Alongside other Franciscans, he educated Native Americans on new agricultural and craft techniques while introducing them to Christianity (www.sanluisrey.org). San Luis Rey de Francia is the eighteenth mission of California and also the ninth and last mission founded by Lasuen. It forms part of a chain of 21 California Missions established by the Spanish Franciscans.
The Mission San Luis Rey site, built in 1798, witnessed the baptism of fifty-four Indians (www.missioncalifornia.com). It was also known as the “King of the Missions,” being the largest mission and once the biggest building in California (www.missioncalifornia.com). The Mission complex had a rectangular shape and consisted of adobe buildings. Covering about six acres of land, the mission measured approximately five hundred yards square. Adjacent to the mission church and cemetery was a corner where the Mission farm and pasture lands extended up to 15 miles (www.athanasius.com). The annual production of Mission San Luis Rey included 67,000 bushels of grain, in addition to raising livestock (www.sanluisrey.org). By 1818, San Luis Rey and its six mission ranches: Pala, Santa Margarita, San Jacinto, Santa Ysabel, Temecula, and San Pedro, reached its “Golden Age.”
At the end of the Mexican war, American troops, including a portion of the Mormon battalion, were stationed at San Luis Rey, similar to Mission San Diego. Due to limited space, animals had to be housed in the church. Prior to leaving, Father Peyri planted seeds given to him by a sailor who claimed they were exclusive to South America. These seeds sprouted and quickly grew into tall saplings, becoming the first “pepper trees” in California. One of Father Peyri’s trees can still be found on the west side of the mission. After the troops withdrew, San Luis Rey fell into disrepair, and a nearby village called San Luis Rey emerged, known for its gambling and alcohol consumption. Restoration of the mission buildings began in 1931, resulting in their current state. San Luis Rey de Francia was one of several missions established by Father Peyri and, although founded for Christianity, it differs from many other California missions.