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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El Camino Real

Technically, the “Royal Highway” a term used to designate the main road in a Spanish territory. In Alta California, El Camino Real was a dirt road that linked the missions and extended from San Diego to Sonoma. U.S. 101 roughly parallels El Camino Real.


An Indian male nurse who tended the numerous sick at the mission.


Temporary brush shelter.




The military guard assigned from a nearby presidio for mission or pueblo protection. It consisted of a corporal and from 5 to 7 soldiers.


A short carbine carried by most Spanish soldiers.


Separate pierced bell-wall such as that found at Mission San Diego or Mission San Gabriel.


Spanish linear measurement of about 3.3 meters, or 11 feet.