In 1797, work began on what was to become the largest church in the California mission chain. It was finished in 1806. In December of 1812, an earthquake hit the area and destroyed most of the church, killing 40 Indians.
In 1845 the mission was sold to Governor Pio Pico's brother-in-law for $710,000. The Mission San Juan Capistrano was not kept up during the years following secularization. By 1866, the mission was rotting and near ruin. Several attempts were made to restore the mission, but it was not until 1910 when Father John O'Sullivan came to the mission that it was completely restored and rebuilt. In 1918, Father O'Sullivan was given permission to make the mission into an active church once again. Today, the mission is an active parish that continues to serve the people of the city of San Juan Capistrano. The mission and the grounds have been completely restored, with a complete quadrangle. In some of the rooms at the mission are museums and displays from the mission period. Visitors are welcomed. The restoration and loving care given to Mission San Juan Capistrano has helped it to be known as "Jewel of the Missions".
One of the most popular events is the return of the swallows each March 19. These birds fly south for the winter on October 23 and return on March 19 every year like clockwork. Crowds of people come to greet them each year.
See also: California mission