Mission San Juan Capistrano’s oldest tradition is the ringing of the historic bells. This tradition is performed by a chosen few. The official bell ringer positions have only been occupied by a handful of men, since the late 1800s. The three men who carry out this important ritual today are Michael Gastelum, Nathan Banda and Rafael Gutierrez. Together they bring history to life by ringing the bells on designated feast days, holidays and community celebrations.
Bells have played an important role at the Mission since Father Serra first consecrated the Mission’s land in 1776. During the Mission Era (1776-1834) the bells regulated the Mission residents’ daily activities. The bells also signaled special celebrations such as weddings or tolled sad news such as a death in the community.
Four bells were originally cast for Mission San Juan Capistrano and each is named after a saint (from largest to smallest these names are San Vicente, San Juan, San Antonio and San Rafael). After the Great Stone Church was destroyed in 1812, its four original bells were recovered from the fallen tower, and placed in the newly constructed Bell Wall called the campanario.
Today, the original two largest bells (San Vicente and San Juan) hang in the footprint of the bell tower of the ruins of the Great Stone Church. On the Bell Wall are two replica large bells, and the original two small bells (San Antonio and San Rafael) which are still rung today.