The Lavanderia

Originally known as the Sunken Gardens, the elaborate "laundry" is where Mission members bathed and washed their clothes. A gated arch fronted a grand staircase leading down to this area.


Water poured through aqueducts into a series of tile and stone pools and spouted from gargoyles into lush orchards. The spot was chosen because the water flowed into the area from an offshoot of the San Luis Rey River just behind the Mission. Because of the hill the Mission was built on, water flowed down the slope and there was no need for pumping it through complicated irrigation ditches. Water then flowed through a charcoal filtration system in order to purify it for bathing and drinking.


To many who visit the Lavandería, this looks like it might be a well, but it is in fact a Kiln where the tiles and bricks used to build the Mission were fired. The kiln was uncovered along with the Lavandería in the 1960s.

Military Barracks

Here are the adobe ruins of the barracks that once housed the Spanish soldiers assigned to protect the Mission. It included apartments and a look-out tower. American troops were stationed here during the Mexican-American war from 1846-1848.

Beginning in 1847, and lasting nearly a decade, the US military maintained a small presence in front of the Mission to protect the property from further predation. The famed Mormon Battalion was one of the first detachments to be stationed here.

Mission Bells

Three original quadrangle bells which were rung daily by Luiseños boys to announce the hours of meals, prayers, and the end of the work day.

These bells can now be seen in our museum.

“. . . records state that the mission Indians were governed for worship, for labor, for meals and for sleep by the sound of a bell. The Indians’ day began at sunrise when the Angelus bell called them to prayers in the mission church. About an hour later another bell announced breakfast, whereupon each family sent to the community kitchen for its share of the food that had been prepared. After breakfast another ring of the bell sent all who were old enough and able to work to their appointed tasks. There were no laggards in this community. From the small boy who scared the birds away from the orchard or straying animals from drying adobes to the little girls who helped prepare the wool for spinning, the old woman who gathered wood for the kitchen fires, all who were able to work had some special task to perform. In the forenoon and again in mid-afternoon, one of the Padres gathered all the children over five years of age and instructed them in the Doctrina. Following the morning period with the children, the Padre visited the fields and shops to see that no one was absent from work. Shortly after eleven o’clock the Padres had their noonday meal. From twelve until two o’clock the Indians ate their meal and enjoyed the inevitable siesta. Then back to work they went until about five o’clock, when it was time for prayers and devotions. At six o’clock came the ringing of the Angelus. Super was then served. For the remainder of the evening until Poor Soul’s Bell was rung at eight o’clock, the Indians were free to do as they wished within certain limitations, of course. Thus it was that day after day, week after week, and year after year, the life of the mission community was regulated by the ringing of a bell.”

Excerpt from Indian Life at the Old Missions by Edith Buckland Webb. 1952. Page 35.

The idea of placing a marker along the highway and in front of each mission did not come about until August 15, 1906, when a cast-iron, 85-pound bell and piping designed by Mrs. A.S.C. Forbes, was placed into the ground at the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles, also known as the Plaza Church near Union Depot in Los Angeles. The bells were inscribed, "El Camino Real 1769-1906." The dates reflect the founding of the first mission in 1769, and the dedication of the first bell in Los Angeles in August 1906.

When the Mission was finished, there were eight bells in the bell tower. During the summer of 1915, the southeast corner of the bell tower collapsed due to the re-plastering work done a decade before. Over the years and with the collapse of the bell tower, the bells have either been lost or stolen.

There are four bells in the tower today - two large bells which were installed in 1939 and 1940, and two small bells installed in 1959. They are not the ones you hear every hour and quarter-hour; those are recordings that are sounded through speakers in the tower.

The bells in the tower are only rung on special occasions, like the in the photo above showing Father Arturo Lopez, OFM, ringing the bells after the announcement of Pope Francis as our new pope in 2013.

Carriage Arch

The Carriage Arch is one of the last remnants of the arcade that formed the original quadrangle, a four-sided patio surrounded by buildings. The central patio, used for work and leisure activities, was bordered by workshops, classrooms, a kitchen, infirmary, winery, and dormitories for Indian converts. The buildings are now the Retreat Center.


Water poured through aqueducts into a series of tile and stone pools and spouted from gargoyles into lush orchards. A charcoal filtration through these gargoyles allowed for the water to be purified and used for cooking, drinking, and washing.


The Mission’s Sunken Gardens was once a lush area with groves of fruit, vegetables, and herbs grown for both food and manufacture and were used by those living on the mission lands as well as for export. Here is a list of various native and non-native plants that grew in this area.

Pre-Missionary plants: Century plant, agave, manzanita, wild squash, prickly pear, chock cherry, squaw root, pine nuts, acorn, gooseberry, blackberry, thimble berry, hollyhock, jojoba/gout nut.

Plants introduced by Spanish Missionaries: Wheat, beans, corn, oats

Vegetables: artichoke, asparagus, beets, cabbage, carrots, calabash, citron, endives, garlic, leaks, lettuce, melons, onions, peppers, plantains, potatoes, pumpkin, radish, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomato, yams.

Fruit trees: almond, apple, apricot, banana, capulin and sweet cherry, date and fig, guava, lemon, lime, orange, mulberry, nectarine, peach, pear, pecan, pomegranate, plum, walnut

Vine fruits: grapes, red raspberry, strawberry

Herbs (for food and medicinal): lemon verbena, mustard, caraway, coriander, chamomile, fennel, lavender, mint and spearmint, oregano, poppy, yerba buena, thyme, marjoram, dandelion, anise, basil

Plants for manufacture: flax, indigo, hemp, mulberry (oil), bottle gourd, yucca, agave, century plant.

Pepper Tree

The oldest pepper tree in California can be seen from the viewing area near the Information (Welcome) Center. Fr. Peyri planted it from seeds given to him in 1830 by a sailor from Peru. Branches of the old tree now need to be supported by tall stakes.

Restoration Project

Today, there is an active project underway that will restore the Lavandería to what it once was those 200 years ago. It was once a lush area that grew orchards full of fruits, vegetables, and herbs for everyone who lived here.

The Lavandería's restoration is a joint project between the Old Mission San Luis Rey Historic Foundation, the California State University at San Marcos anthropology department, the San Luis Rey Band of Luiseños Mission Indians, and Mission San Luis Rey.

To preserve and maintain the Lavandería, the largest archaeological site at any of the California Missions, we need the support of patrons like you who visit our Mission. Click the donate button on this page to help this project.


Our Mission depends on visitor donations to keep us open and thriving.

Most people are surprised to learn that we don't receive any funds from the Catholic Church or U.S. Government.

Our low fees don't come close to covering the costs of running a 56-acre property with ancient infrastructure.

Please click the donate button below.