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The San Fernando Mission Bicentennial

Mission San Fernando

September 07, 1997

Spring water, protective mountains and an ample number of local Indians to convert drew Franciscan priests to the rugged site where they founded Mission San Fernando, Rey de Espana, named for Ferdinand III, a saint and king of Spain.

Today, 200 years later, it is the mission's historical treasures, carefully restored chapel and tranquil gardens that attract thousands each year for tours, study, weddings, baptisms and funerals.

The San Fernando Mission, situated in what is today Mission Hills, was the 17th of 21 missions built by the friars near the California coast. The first nine were founded by Father Junipero Serra, while the lesser-known Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen built the last eight, including the San Fernando Mission.

Although the exact number of Native Americans who passed through its thick adobe walls is unknown, mission records show that nearly 2,500 were buried in its cemetery.

Here's a look at the mission past and present:

Life at the Mission

By 1804, 1,000 Indians lived at the mission, a number believed to have remained constant for 20 years. It was the labor of the Catholic converts or "neophytes," that sustained the mission, which had ceased receiving regular supplies from Europe. Schooled in agriculture by the Spaniards, the Indians planted and harvested a bounty of fruits and field crops, and tended to thousands of head of livestock.

In 1819, the mission's most successful year, cattle-raising was its biggest industry. The tally: 12,800 cattle, 7,800 sheep, 176 goats, 45 pigs, 144 mules and 780 horses. The mission was also known for its hand-forged iron grillwork and had a flourishing trade in hides, tallow and leather work. The mission was also the source for adobe bricks and tile, carpentry products and baskets (right).

Mission Dates

1797: Mission founded by Fray Fermin Francisco de Lasuen on Sept. 8.

1806: Permanent church at mission completed.

1812: Major earthquake damages mission, destroying the church.

1822: Convento building completed after 12 years of construction.

1834: Antonio del Valle chosen as first secular major-domo of the mission, signaling the change from religious institution to a ranching business.

1855: Last priest leaves mission. Mission slowly falls into disrepair.

Late 1880s: In serious disrepair, mission is no longer viable.

1941: Mission rededicated following restoration by Valley residents.

1971: Old Mission Church destroyed in Sylmar-San Fernando earthquake; later replaced by replica.

1987: Pope John Paul II visits Old Mission Church.

1994: Mission sustains $1.94-million damage in Northridge earthquake.

Visiting the Mission

* Location: Situated at 15151 San Fernando Mission Blvd., Mission Hills; (818) 361-0186.

* Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, excluding Christmas and Thanksgiving.

* Admission: $4 adults, $3 seniors and children ages 7-15, children under 7 free.

* Mass: 7:25 a.m. daily, except Wednesdays; 9 and 10:30 a.m. Sundays. Tridentine Mass (in Latin) first Sunday of month at noon.

* Archival Center: Open to researchers weekdays except Wednesdays and by special appointment.

Old Mission Church: A replica of the original church constructed from 1804 to 1806, with 7-foot thick walls at base, tapering to 5 feet at top. From 1797 to 1846, site of 3,188 baptisms, 2,449 burials and 842 marriages performed.

Workshops: Displays include a loom, period saddles, pottery and leather, carpenter and blacksmith shops, which include some original tools.

Archival Center: Opened in 1980 to collect, preserve, study and interpret documents, diaries, manuscripts, photographs and other written materials related to Catholic history of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Tours given 1 to 3 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.

Cemetery: Final resting place for nearly 2,500 Native Americans between 1798 and 1852. No headstones or markers. Some Spaniards and others also buried here, including priests. Cemetery continued to serve area Catholics until 1917.

Museum: Items include original mission floor tile from 1803; original mission plates, cups and pitchers; handmade iron hardware, display on Native Americans, miniature mission bells collection and vestment worn by Pope John Paul II during 1987 visit.

Convento: Completed in 1822 after 12 years of construction, this is the only remaining structure from the original San Fernando Mission and the largest original mission building in California. Mission priests lived here, and during the mission era it was used as an inn for travelers.

Other features in Convento:

* 243 feet long, 50 feet wide, 4-foot-thick adobe walls, original iron grills.

* 21 Roman arches.

* La Sala or Reception Room's large hand-hewn double doors were mission's main entrance. Shell patterns above door are an ancient motif. Hand-forged lock and bolt on doors and iron grating on windows are original. Original stenciling above rear door denotes grape harvest.

* A Wells Fargo wagon recalls its use from 1857-61 as a station for the Butterfield Stage Line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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