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California's first baptism held on Camp Pendleton

The residents, employees and surrounding communities of Camp Pendleton are more than familiar with the role the base plays and its history in the Marine Corps.

But there is a lesser-known California historic site within the installation’s boundaries, the “La Cristianita” site.

La Cristianita is also historically known for the spread of Christianity across California, as it was the site of the first known Christian baptism in the Alta California region. At the time, Alta California stretched from the present day United States-Mexican border to the U.S.-Canadian border. This region was designated as such until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1846.

During the Portola-Serra Expedition, an expedition approved by King Carlos III of Spain to colonize Alta California, a company of soldiers and priests traveled through the region to colonize the area by building missions and settlements.

As the expedition traveled north from what is now San Diego to Orange County, the men of the expedition stumbled upon the Native American Acjachemen tribe, near Cristianitos Canyon, during their search for a place to rest overnight. The Acjachemen people told the priests there were two young girls who were very ill.

In an effort to help these young girls enter heaven, Father Francisco Gomez performed a Christian baptism July 22, 1769, becoming the first known baptism in Alta California. To celebrate this sacrament, the missionaries named the area “Los Cristianitos,” meaning “little Christians.”

The site was officially named a historical landmark in 1957.

A marker and a cross have been erected at the site to distinguish the area off Cristianitos Road, near the base’s Cristianitos gate. Near the cross, a small trail leads to the spring where Gomez performed the historical celebration. The spring has been made into a well and a plaque describing its significance sits near the location.

For more information about Camp Pendleton’s history, call the history and museums office at (760) 725-5758.

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