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MISSION SAN JUAN BAUTISTA
The largest and one of the best preserved original Missions of California’s El Camino Real, the Mission San Juan Bautista has remained an functional church continuously since it was first built in 1802 replacing an earlier chapel from 1797. Dedicated as the 15th mission in the chain of twenty-one by the Father Fermin Francsico de Lausen who succeeded Father Junipero Serra in his quest to complete a chain of missions up and down what was at the time Spanish “Alta California”. Aftre the Mexican revolution the mission was secularized by the Mexican government and then returned to the Catholic Church in 1859 after California statehood.
San Juan Bautista is located just off the 101 Freeway and the junction with Highway 156 from the central valley near Hollister, the “Earthquake Capital” of California and Gilroy the "Garlic Capital" where the Gilroy Garlic Festival is held in July. It’s remarkable that the mission and the surrounding buildings, now the San Juan Bautista State Historic Park have survived so well since the San Andreas Fault which runs up the spins of the state passed almost directly underneath, or just behind. The Mission did suffer some damage in the famous 1906 quake which devastated San Francsico, but it’s original Spanish Courtyard the oldest in California and cemetery with 4,300 native Indians and “Californios” buried have retained their original quality. A section of the original El Camino Real (King’s Road) which was a main stage road which formed the route from Highway 1 and 101 still is preserved behind the mission church where you can walk in the footsteps of history.
The San Juan Bautista State Historic Park surrounding the mission consists of several adobe and later buildings, including a hotel, dance hall, stables for the old stage coaches, and houses from the 1800’s, with a museum and docent guided exhibits. This area of the state plays a central role in California’s early history, now perhaps viewed as controversial. The San Juan location of the mission was chosen because of the native American (Matsun Indians) population who the missions were intended to convert and used as a labor force, and was within a day’s walk from the first mission San Carlos Borromeo in Carmel and Mission Santa Clara. John C. Fremont tried to establish U.S. control of Alta California by establishing a defiant outpost on Gavilan Peak now called Fremont Peak overlooking the valley where the mission stands. They lasted three days, but later returned to form the California Battalion, participating in the capitulation of Andres Pico in the Treaty of Cahuenga. The California bear flag was first raised at Monterey 30 miles away.
The small town of San Juan Bautista which surrounds the state park has avoided the modern spread of other mission cities and retains the quiet historic color and flavor of an old western California town with restaurants like the "Cutting Horse" Steak House in an original 1800's building on Third Street or the "Jardines de San Juan" authentic Mexican food in a lush garden setting. San Juan Bastista is an ideal stop while heading to Monterey or between LA and San Francisco, about 40 minutes south from San Jose. Or for a real "Californio" style wedding, you can still find a willing padre at the old mission. © Bargain Travel West
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