The Architectural History of the California Missions
You may already know that there are 21 missions today in the state of California. Starting in San Diego all the way past San Francisco, the missions remind us of an earlier time when the Spanish were colonizing Alta California. The California missions were started because the Spanish king wanted to create permanent settlements in the area of the New World called Alta California. The decision to create Spanish missions in California was political as well as religious. The Spanish government wanted to gain control in California before the Russians did. They also wanted to spread Christianity among the Native Americans (Johnson, page 5). Most of today's missions are active churches, some have held mass non-stop since their founding. Others are part of the California State Park system. All are modern day treasures and a path backwards in time to our beginnings. They have influenced many aspects of our history, and continue to be an important part of our state today. Thousands of people annually visit the Missions and they find its architecture beautiful and interesting. The architecture of the California missions was influenced by many factors like the limitation in the materials, the lack of skilled workers, and the desire of the founding priest to imitate the structure of his Spanish homeland.
The first thing they would do in the construction of missions was to find a location. Then they would decide what the position would be so that they would take the best advantage of the sun's position for interior illumination (Baer, page 42). After the position, they would lay out a map describing where everything would be located and constructed; starting from the priest's quarters, refectory, convent, workshops, kitchens, soldiers' and servants' living quarters, storerooms, court or patio, and other additional living quarters. The patio was one of the most important structures of missions; they were usually in the shape of a square, even though they were almost never a perfect square because they did not have the right tools to measure so they would measure the dimensions by foot. They would use this location to have religious celebrations, and other festivities; they would also use it as a refuge in case of attacks. Generally the basic elements found in the California missions are as follow: A patio with a fountain or a garden, solid walls, buttresses, arched corridors, curved or pedimented gables, terraced bell towers or bell wall, wide projecting eaves, broad underdecorated wall surfaces, and low sloping tile roofs (Newcomb, page ix). Every element of the mission had its purpose for example the patio had many uses like I explained earlier, and the buttresses were used as a support for the walls (Johnson, page 50).
When missions were being started the materials were hard to be imported, this forced the fathers to make use of simple building materials and methods in the...