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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A tile floor.


A wine, olive, or apple press.




Standard Spanish measure of distance for a league, equal to 2.597 miles. There were 5,000 varas in a legua.

Letter of Marque

The papers given a privateer authorizing him to act. The letter specified the period for which it was valid. Often the limits of the Marque were vague, leaving it up to the captain and crew to determine where to go and what they could seize.