Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded on November 1, 1776 by Saint Junípero Serra, a Franciscan priest who was over 50 years old when he travelled from New Spain, now Mexico, to Alta California to establish the California missions.

Today, Mission San Juan Capistrano is renowned as the “Jewel of the Missions,” a monument to California’s multi-cultural history, embracing a Native American, Spanish, Mexican, European and American heritage. The key building of the Mission is Serra Chapel, which was constructed by Juaneño Native Americans. Saint JuSerra celebrated Mass in the Chapel in 1783. By 1811, more than 1,200 people lived and worked at the Mission as a thriving community of tradesmen, farmers and clergy. Like many of the missions, San Juan Capistrano underwent long periods of deferred maintenance.

In the 1920s, Father St. John O’Sullivan, the Great Restorer, initiated a major restoration and expansion of the Serra Chapel. It was during this time that the golden retablo was placed in the Chapel.

The beautiful baroque altar is from Barcelona, Spain, and is made of hand-carved wood with a gold leaf overlay. It is estimated to be over 400 years old. The side chapel is dedicated to St. Peregrine, patron saint of sufferers. Near the entry is the original baptismal font that once stood in the Great Stone Church.

In 2005, the Foundation implemented a 1.8 million campaign to raise much-needed funds to preserve the Chapel’s significant features. This work included:

  • Conservation of statues, artwork, and artifacts
  • Conservation of the 1920s pews
  • Protection of the decorative wall paintings
  • Stabilization of the original wall plasters
  • Cleaning of the 18th-century paintings
  • Cleaning and stabilization of the gilding on the Golden Altar or Retablo
  • Repair of the Sacristy and choir loft
  • Safeguarding of the original fabric from further deterioration, including wooden beams, decorative corbels, and other features under threat
  • Restoration of the deteriorated interior paint finishes and improvement of the lighting conditions
  • Conservation of the Peregrine Chapel

To learn more about the Serra Chapel preservation project, click here.