The largest of California's 21 original Spanish mission churches, the structure is currently in use as a Catholic church and has been in continuous service since its construction in 1812. Following Mexico's independence from Spain, a new law mandated the secularization of all California missions. The San Juan Bautista Mission was closed in 1834, when the residents were allowed to remain on site while new Mexican citizens were being born into slavery. After this time, the building was used as a school until 1837, when it was reopened for religious purposes.
The mission church at San Juan Bautista is an important example of late-18th-century Spanish mission architecture and remains one of the most intact such buildings in California. It is also significant for its association with Junípero Serra, who served as the first European-born bishop of the San Francisco Bay Area. He recruited many of the missionaries who worked at the mission and played an influential role in the establishment of Santa Clara County, California.
The current congregation of the church dates back to 1837, following the secularization of the mission. In 1841, San Juan Bautista became the first parish established in Santa Clara County, California. The town that grew up around the mission included both Indians and Mexicans, with the majority being indigenous people.
15th Mission of San Juan Bautista Much of the original construction has been preserved and rebuilt, making it the biggest California mission chapel and the only one with three aisles. It was given the name John the Baptist. The current church is on the site of two earlier structures: an adobe building built in 1772 by Spanish settlers and a wood-frame building constructed in 1817 by Mexican settlers.
The first known written record about the current site of the town of St. John is a document dated October 3, 1771, which mentions a church being built here "for the instruction of Indians." The document also states that the land for the church was donated by Jose Antonio Lugo.
The current church was built between 1772 and 1776 by Spanish missionaries under the direction of Bishop José de Arrillaga. The chapel was designed to hold 150 people and is large for its time; it's estimated that when it was completed there were already 200 native Americans living in San Juan Bautista.
The church was built with adobe bricks made from the soil near the site. It has a rectangular floor plan with three aisles. The nave is separated from the transept by a wall with four windows. The ceiling is made of timber with heavy beams crossed at regular intervals so that no room is more than 12 feet high.
Mission San Juan Bautista was California's largest mission church. Since 1812, it has been in constant use. The mission, which is located next to the San Andreas Fault, was featured in Alfred Hitchcock's film Vertigo. It remains an active parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland.
San Juan Bautista is significant for its association with Junípero Serra, a Spanish missionary who founded many of California's early settlements. The town was also the birthplace of Manuel Nieto, one of the first Mexican Americans to attend college. In addition, the church is well preserved and is used regularly by members of the local community.
Serra came to what is now San Juan Bautista in 1771 to establish a mission station for the Spanish Empire. The location he chose was then part of Alta California, which had been won from the Mexicans the previous year. Before leaving Spain, Serra had obtained permission to build a church on the site that is today's San Juan Bautista. Work began on the mission in May 1772 and was completed the following November at a cost of $23,000. The church was built with red bricks made nearby and has a tall stone tower with four bells. It is estimated that the building was two stories high with a roof made of wood and tiles.