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Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, in the city of San Luis Obispo, is located halfway between Santa Barbara and MontereyMission San Luis Obispo is also just a short drive (about 13 miles or 17 minutes, according to Google Maps) from the resort city of Morro Bay (1234). The Mission was founded in 1772 and named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse. The Mission is unusual in its architecture among the California missions. In addition to the usual long, narrow nave of the chapel, there is a secondary nave to the right of the altar, which makes Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa the only “L-shaped” California mission.

In 1769Gaspar de Portolà‘s half-starved expedition, returning from its search (in vain) for Monterey, discovered a large marshy valley with soil dug up by California grizzly bears (now extirpated). Portolà’s men killed and ate the grizzly meat and named the place “la Cañada de los Osos” (Valley of the Bears). When the missions at Carmel and San Antonio were near starvation in 1772, people remembered the Valley of the Bears and sent a hunting party to kill grizzlies and send the meat back to relieve the two missions. The hunters stayed for 3 months, living on bear meat and seeds, and are said to have sent back pack mules with 9000 pounds of salted and jerked bear meat and seeds obtained by bartering the meat for seeds from the friendly Chumash Indians (Native Americans).

While the hunters were away, Father Junípero Serra learned that two ships had reached San Diego with much-needed supplies. He decided to travel south to San Diego to persuade the ship captains to travel north to Monterey. Father Serra also planned to establish a fifth mission near the Valley of the Bears on his way south. Father Serra selected a low hill near “a stream of the finest water” where he celebrated the first Mass in a shelter of boughs and named Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Father Serra continued south the next day, leaving Father José Cavaller, 5 soldiers, and 2 neophytes to construct the first buildings. In 1776, other Native Americans who were enemies of the neophytes set fire to wooden structures with flaming arrows. To resist fire, Father Cavaller experimented with the fabrication of clay tiles about 22 inches long and tapering from 20 to 12 inches in width. The roofing tiles, said to be the first made in California, were soon copied by other missions.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa flourished with Father Luis Antonio Martínez, who served for 34 years. Father Martinez was a portly, jovial priest, who was generous and hospitable. He was also frank, critical, and had a quick temper, traits which got him in trouble with the governor and resulted in his arrest on flimsy charges and banishment in 1830John C. Frémont used the Mission as his base of operations during the war with Mexico in 1846. Mission San Luis Obispode Tolosa also served as the first courthouse and jail in San Luis Obispo County.

When we visited the Mission in the summer of 2007, it was undergoing seismic retrofitting for protection against earthquakes (12). The retrofitting was scheduled for completion by September 2007 and should be complete at this time. The grounds of the Mission are quite beautiful, with walkwaysarborsmission bells, and yet another fountain. In front of the Mission is a beautiful little park (beside the stream), which also contains the historic Murray Adobe (12).

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

You can view higher-resolution photos (*generally* 7-30 megabytes, compressed) at the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Pro Gallery on Shutterfly™, where you can also order prints and gifts decorated with the photos of your choice from the gallery. Apparel and other gifts decorated with some of our most popular photos can be ordered from the Cheshire Cat Photo™ Store on CafePress®.

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