San Juan Capistrano was founded November 1, 1776, by Serra, assisted by Amirrio. A commission of priests was sent from Monterey the year before to find a place for another Mission north of San Diego, in pursuance of a modified plan of establishing a line of Missions between the two points, of such distance apart as to make the journeys convenient and easy. The original plan was to found but one Mission. This was subsequently considered inadequate for the general purposes of colonization and the work of the Church, and several Missions had already been founded under the plans as modified. This commission was instructed to name the Mission San Juan Capistrano, and they selected the location upon a circle of hills overlooking a beautiful valley running to the ocean, sixty-five miles south of Los Angeles. The outbreak of the Indians at San Diego occurred at this time, the report of which deferred further action until about a year later. Then the work of construction was commenced, and was carried on mostly by the Indians under the direction of the padres. But two buildings were begun; however, they were extensive, and the long line of corridors with triple archwork, though in ruins, is still the wonder of the engineer and the architect. The walls are massive and constructed of stone and mortar, but the earthquake of December 8, 1812, did much damage. The tower and one of the great domes fell in upon the Indian congregation at prayer, crushing about forty under the weight of masonry. The same earthquake also wrecked other Missions.
All this constructive work was the result of training heathen brains and hands to carry out the designs of the educated padres. The main building, the church, is in the form of a Roman cross, and its construction and decoration place San Juan Capistrano in the forefront as the finest example of Mission-building now standing. The carvings and cut-stone work indicate that only masters of their craft were employed in the building here. The quadrangle was surrounded by lines of arches which present features not to be found in the arches of any other Mission.
The honor of conferring the name was given to Don Portola, the first Governor, who discovered the locality on his trip of observation from San Diego to Monterey in 1770. He was struck with the beauty of the region, the fertility of the soil, its contiguity with the sea, and a natural port for the anchorage of ships. The place is one of the most remarkable of this productive State. San Juan Capistrano, even after the earthquake shock and a century of decay, surpasses many of the Missions. In progress, wealth, and spiritual harvest it kept pace in the days of its prosperity with other leading Missions. A chapel still remains, restored from the ruins, and services are held there by an itinerant priest. It is one of the favorite resorts of tourists.