Common Terms of the California Missions

Many words and phrases used during the California mission era are still in use . These include architectural and military terms, religious words and phrases, Native American terms and place names, and of course, the Spanish words for many aspects of everyday life. This glossary provides a handy single reference of these California Mission terms.


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Spanish for lower. Used to decribe Baja California, the peninsula that is part of Mexico, directly south of Alta California.


A low barrier (made of carved and painted wooden spindles and a railing) often created in the mission churches.


17th century style of artistic expression characterized by elaborate ornamentation and dynamic forms.


A deep ravine or canyon.


A Roman Catholic Church of special historical and religious importance.

Bear Flag Revolt

The armed uprising by a band of Americans that started on June 14, 1846, leading to the declaration of the independent California Republic. Within a month, the United States occupied Monterey and California officially became part of the United States in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Bee-hive oven

A wood-fired cone-shaped over used for baking bread.


A cellar, wine cellar or wine vault.


A leather container consisting of a single cowhide used for storing or shipping tallow. The contents weighed about 200 pounds.


A carved, painted three-dimensional figure usually set in a recess. Most of the mission churches featured a bulto depicting the saint for whom the mission is named.


Supporting structures built into a standing wall to strengthen it.