The Kings Highway

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Map Of The Spanish Missions Along The Kings Highway In California
[1] Map Of The Spanish Missions Along The Kings Highway In California

This post holds fond memories as I’ve traveled on the King’s Highway many times and have had the pleasure of visiting the all of the missions listed in this post. Being able to pay homage to the history of the California Missions along this highway is a treat for me to be able to write about.

This post uses a lot of reference text and images from Wikipedia, all of which are listed as “Creative Commons License,” but I am still listing all of the attribution to those that made the text and images possible.

In order to make sense of the attribution, any place there is text or an image that is used from Wikipedia or any other source, I’ll be placing a [1, 2, 3, etc] notation at the beginning of the text paragraph or image description with a corresponding link at the bottom of this post.

On any given weekend, there are hordes of people that travel along the King’s Highway without ever noticing the historical value of the road they are driving or riding on. Carrying on with a hurried sense of urgency to arrive at their destination, never giving one thought to the beauty that lies within.

The map ([1] Title Picture) depicting an approximate location of the twenty-one missions that line the King’s Highway serves as a good reference while making your way through this post.

While a good majority of the missions are close to the what is now the Pacific Coast Highway, there are some missions that are more inland. It’s important to remember that back in the 1500’s to 1900’s, all roads were more of just paths of dusty, sandy dirt. The air almost always thick of moisture from the ocean air. Very heavy fog was, and to this day can still in a problem when trying to drive on the Pacific Coast Highway.

El Camino Real Bell Road Marker, California
El Camino Real Bell Road Marker, California

The El Camino Real, often stated as “The Royal Road” or “Kings Highway,” from it’s Spanish translation and origins is a highway stretching a little more than 600 miles, (965 km) and is associated with the El Camino Real within California.

Hearing the name “El Camino Real” is synonymous with the 21 Spanish Missions, along with a number of sub-missions, four presidios and three pueblos, stretching at its southern end from the San Diego Mission, all the way up to the trail’s northern terminus at Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, just north of the San Francisco Bay.

The Pacific Coast Highway One (PCH 1) starts – in present day – from Dana Point, California (81 miles/130 km to the north of the US/Mexico boarder) and extends to the Olympic National Park, Washington State (225 miles/362 km south of the US/Canadian boarder). Spanning more than 2,000 miles (3,218 km) along the coast of three different states, (California, Oregon and Washington State) it is a journey that is rich in history dating back to – by some accounts – the late 1500’s.

In earlier Spanish colonial times, any road under the direct jurisdiction of the Spanish Crown and its viceroys was considered to be a Camino Real. Such roads ran between principal settlements throughout Spain and its colonies such as New Spain. Most Camino Real’s had names apart from the appended Camino Real. Once Mexico won its independence from Spain, no road in Mexico, including California, was a Camino Real. The name was rarely used after that and was only revived in the American period in connection with the boosterism associated with the Mission Revival movement of the early 20th century.

Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego, California - 1900
[2] Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego, California – 1900

[2] Mission San Diego de Alcalá as it stood circa 1900. Note the missing Campanario, and the exposed church, which fell into disrepair.

It’s worth noting here that San Diego has always been a place of contention for hundreds of years, even to this day, the country of Mexico lay claim to most of the southern part of the state of California in the US. This is due mostly to hotly contested land markers between the US and Mexico as well as Mexico being under Spanish rule from 1521-1821. The capture of Tenochtitlan marked the beginning of a 300 year colonial period and much civil unrest, during which Mexico was known as “New Spain” ruled by a viceroy in the name of the Spanish monarch.

In little documented history, you’ll find that most of these missions were built as a safe haven – an escape from the Spanish monarch – for the weary who dare to travel away from Mexico in an attempt to get away from an oppressive monarch.

Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego, California
[2] Basilica San Diego de Alcalá, San Diego, California

[2] Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá was the first Franciscan mission in The California’s, a province of New Spain. Located in present-day San Diego, California, it was founded on July 16, 1769, by Spanish friar Junípero Serra in an area long inhabited by the Kumeyaay people. The mission and the surrounding area were named for the Catholic Didacus of Alcalá, a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego. The mission was the site of the first Christian burial in Alta California. The original mission burned in 1775 during an uprising by local natives San Diego is also generally regarded as the site of the region’s first public execution, in 1778. Father Luis Jayme, California’s first Christian martyr who was among those killed during the 1775 uprising against the mission, lies entombed beneath the chancel floor. The current church, built in the early 19th century, is the fifth to stand on this location. The mission site is a National Historic Landmark.

San Luis Rey de Francia Mission, San Luis Rey, California
[3] San Luis Rey de Francia Mission, San Luis Rey, California

[3] Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is a former Spanish mission in San Luis Rey, a neighborhood of Oceanside, California. This Mission lent its name to the Luiseño tribe of Mission Indians.

The full name of the mission is La Misión de San Luis, Rey de Francia. It was named for King Louis IX of France. Its nickname is “King of the Missions” It was founded by padre Fermín Lasuén on June 12, 1798, the eighteenth of the twenty-one Spanish missions built in the Alta California Province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

At its prime, Mission San Luis Rey’s structures and services compound covered almost 950,400 acres, (384,613 hectares) making it the largest of the missions, along with its surrounding agricultural land. Multiple outposts were built in support of Mission San Luis Rey and placed under its supervision, including San Antonio de Pala Asistencia in 1816 and Las Flores Estancia in 1823.

The current church, built in 1815, is the third church on this location. It is a National Historic Landmark for its pristine example of a Spanish mission church complex. Today the mission complex functions as a parish church of the Diocese of San Diego as well as a museum and retreat center. Mission San Luis Rey De Francia raised about 26,000 cattle as well as goats, geese, and pigs.

An early account of life at the Mission was written by one of its Native American converts, Luiseño Pablo Tac, in his work Indian Life and Customs at Mission San Luis Rey. In his book, Tac lamented the rapid population decline of his Luiseño people after the founding of the mission.

San Juan Capistrano Mission, San Juan Capistrano, California
[4] San Juan Capistrano Mission, San Juan Capistrano, California

[4] Mission San Juan Capistrano is a former Spanish mission founded in 1776 in colonial Las California’s by Spanish Catholic missionaries of the Franciscan Order. Named for Saint John of Capistrano, the Spanish Colonial Baroque style church was located in the Alta California province of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Today, it is located at 26801 Ortega Highway in San Juan Capistrano, Orange County, California. The Mission was secularized by the Mexican government in 1833, and returned to the Roman Catholic Church by the American government in 1865. The mission was damaged over the years by a number of natural disasters, but restoration and renovation efforts date from around 1910.

Named for Saint John of Capistrano, a 14th-century theologian and “warrior priest” who resided in the Abruzzo region of Italy, San Juan Capistrano has the distinction of being home to the oldest building in California still in use, a chapel built in 1782. “Father Serra’s Church,” also known as “Serra’s Chapel” is the only extant structure where it has been documented that Junipero Serra celebrated Mass. The mission is one of the best known in Alta California, and one of the few to have actually been founded twice – the others being Mission San Gabriel Arcángel and Mission La Purísima Concepción. The site was originally consecrated on October 30, 1775, by Fermín Lasuén, but was quickly abandoned due to unrest among the indigenous population in San Diego.

The success of the settlement’s population is evident in its historical records. Prior to the arrival of the missionaries, some 550 indigenous Acjachemen people lived in this area of their homeland. By 1790, the number of Indian reductions had grown to 700 Mission Indians, and just six years later nearly 1,000 neophytes lived in or around the Mission compound. Baptisms in that year alone numbered 1,649 out of the none total 4,639 people converted between 1776 and 1847.

More than 69 former inhabitants, mostly Juaneño Indians, have marked graves in the Mission’s cemetery. The remains of St. John O’Sullivan, who recognized the property’s historic value and working tirelessly to conserve and rebuild its structures, are buried at the entrance to the cemetery on west side of the property, and a statue raised in his honor stands at the head of the crypt. The surviving chapel also serves as the final resting place of three priests who passed on while serving at the Mission: José Barona, Vicente Fustér, and Vicente Pascual Oliva are all entombed beneath the sanctuary floor.

San Gabriel Arcángel, San Gabriel, California
[5] San Gabriel Arcángel, San Gabriel, California

[5] Mission San Gabriel Arcángel is a fully functioning Roman Catholic mission and a historic landmark in San Gabriel, California. The settlement was founded by Spaniards of the Franciscan order on “The Feast of the Birth of Mary,” September 8, 1771, as the fourth of what would become twenty-one Spanish missions in California. San Gabriel Arcángel, named after the Archangel Gabriel and often referred to as the “Godmother of the Pueblo of Los Angeles,” was designed by Antonio Cruzado, who gave the building its capped buttresses and the tall narrow windows, which are unique among the missions of the California chain.

A large stone cross stands in the center of the Campo Santo, first consecrated in 1778 and then again on January 29, 1939, by the Los Angeles Archbishop John Cantwell. It serves as the final resting place for some 6,000 neophytes. A small stone marker denotes the gravesite of José de Los Santos, the last American Indian to be buried on the grounds, at the age of 101 in February 1921. Also interred at the Mission are the bodies of numerous Franciscan priests who died during their time of service, as well as the remains of Reverend Raymond Catalan, who undertook the restoration of the Mission’s gardens. Entombed at the foot of the altar are the remains of eight Franciscan priests: Miguel Sánchez, Antonio Cruzado, Francisco Dumetz, Roman Ulibarri, Joaquin P. Nunez, Gerónimo Boscana, José Bernardo Sánchez, and Blas Ordaz. Buried among the priests is centenarian Eulalia Perez de Guillén Mariné, the “keeper of the keys” under Spanish rule; her grave is marked by a bench dedicated in her memory.

According to Spanish legend, the founding expedition was confronted by a large group of native Tongva peoples whose intention was to drive the strangers away. One of the priests laid a painting of “Our Lady of Sorrows” on the ground for all to see, whereupon the natives, designated by the settlers as the Gabrieliños, immediately made peace with the missionaries, because they were so moved by the painting’s beauty. Today the 300-year-old work hangs in front of and slightly to the left of the old high altar and reredos in the Mission’s sanctuary.

Over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the chain of missions. Tongva people from nearby settlements like Akuranga village were affected by the practices of Franciscan missionaries, who attempted to eradicate what they perceived as ills within Tongva society through religious indoctrination, labor, restructuring of gender structures, and violence, which took place at and around the Mission.

Although San Gabriel once furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California, a majority of the Mission structures fell into ruins after it was secularized in November 1834. The once-extensive vineyards were falling to decay, with fences broken down and animals roaming freely through it.

San Fernando Rey de España Mission, Mission Hills, California
[6] San Fernando Rey de España Mission, Mission Hills, California

[6] Mission San Fernando Rey de España is a Spanish mission in the Mission Hills community of Los Angeles, California. The mission was founded on September 8, 1797, and was the seventeenth of the twenty-one Spanish missions established in Alta California. Named for Saint Ferdinand, the mission is the namesake of the nearby city of San Fernando and the San Fernando Valley.

The mission was secularized in 1834 and returned to the Catholic Church in 1861. It became a working church in 1920. Today the mission grounds function as a museum. The church is a chapel of ease of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

In 1769, the Spanish Portolá expedition – the first Europeans to see inland areas of California – traveled north through the San Fernando Valley. On August 7, 1769, they camped at a watering place near where the mission would later be established. Fray Juan Crespi, a Franciscan missionary travelling with the expedition, noted in his diary that the camp was at the foot of the mountains.

Basilica San Buenaventura Mission, Ventura, California
[7] Basilica San Buenaventura Mission, Ventura, California

[7] Mission Basilica San Buenaventura is a Catholic parish in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The parish church in the city of Ventura, California, United States, is a Spanish mission founded by the Order of Friars Minor. Founded on March 31, 1782, it was the ninth Spanish mission established in Alta California and the last to be established by the head of the Franciscan missions in California, Junípero Serra. Designated a California Historical Landmark, the mission is one of many locally designated landmarks in downtown Ventura.

The mission was named after St. Bonaventure, a 13th-century Franciscan saint, one of the early leaders of the Order to which the friars belonged, and a doctor of the Church. On July 15, 2020, the feast day of its patron saint, the church was declared a minor basilica by Pope Francis, and its name changed to reflect this new status in the Catholic Church.

Mission San Buenaventura was planned to be founded in 1770, but the founding was delayed because of the low availability of the military escorts needed to establish the mission. In 1793, the first church burned down. When the mission was completed, it included an adjacent quadrangle with living and work space. All that remains of the original mission is the church and its garden.

The founding of the San Buenaventura Mission traces to the decision on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1749, by the Franciscan friar Junipero Serra to journey to the New World as a missionary to the native peoples.

Thirty-three years and one day later he raised the Cross at “la playa de la canal de Santa Barbara” on Easter morning, March 31, 1782. Assisted by Pedro Benito Cambon, he celebrated a High Mass, preached on the Resurrection, and dedicated a mission to San Buenaventura. It had been planned as the third in the chain of twenty-one missions founded by Serra but was destined to be the ninth and last founded during his lifetime, and one of six he personally dedicated.

Under the direction of Friar Cambon, whom Serra left in charge of the new mission, a system of aqueducts were built by the Chumash people between 1805–1815 to meet the needs of the Mission population and consisted of both ditches and elevated stone masonry. The watercourse ran from a point on the Ventura River about one-half mile north of the remaining ruins and carried the water to holding tanks behind the mission, a total of about 7 miles (11 km). With plentiful water, the mission was able to maintain flourishing orchards and gardens, which were described by English navigator George Vancouver as the finest he had seen. The water distribution system was damaged by floods and abandoned in 1862.

The mission’s first church was destroyed by fire in 1793. The construction of a second church was abandoned because the door gave way. A permanent replacement was not able to be rebuilt until 1812. About the same time, the San Miguel Chapel and the Santa Gertrudis Chapel were completed.

A series of earthquakes and an accompanying seismic sea wave in 1812 forced the friars and Indian neophytes to seek temporary shelter a few miles inland. Six years later the friars had to remove sacred objects from the church and the whole mission flee into the hills to elude an attack led by Argentine pirate Hippolyte de Bouchard, who was pillaging the missions and had just conducted a successful attack against Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Santa Barbara Mission, Santa Barbara, California
[8] Santa Barbara Mission, Santa Barbara, California

[8] Mission Santa Barbara, also known as Santa Barbara Mission, is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order near present-day Santa Barbara, California. It was founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén on December 4, 1786, the feast day of Saint Barbara, as the tenth mission for the religious conversion of the indigenous local Chumash-Barbareño tribe of Native American people. The mission is the namesake of the city of Santa Barbara as well as of Santa Barbara County.

The Mission grounds occupy a rise between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, and were consecrated by Father Fermín Lasuén, who had taken over the presidency of the California mission chain upon the death of Father Presidente Junípero Serra. Mission Santa Barbara is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since its founding, and today is a parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

Mission Santa Barbara’s name comes from the legend of Saint Barbara, a girl who was beheaded by her father for following the Christian Faith. The early missionaries built three different chapels during the first few years, each larger than the previous one. It was only after the Santa Barbara earthquake on December 21, 1812 – which destroyed the existing buildings – that the construction on the current Mission was begun. It was completed and then dedicated in 1820. The towers were considerably damaged in the June 29, 1925 earthquake, but were subsequently rebuilt by 1927. The appearance of the inside of the church has not been altered significantly since 1820.

Many elements of the Mission’s extensive water treatment system, all built by Chumash Indians’ labor under the direction of the Franciscans – including aqueducts, two reservoirs, a filter house, and a hydro-powered gristmill – remain to this day. The larger reservoir, which was built in 1806 by the expedient of damming a canyon, had been a functioning component of the City’s water system until 1993. The original fountain and lavadero are also intact near the entrance to the Mission. A dam constructed in 1807 is situated in the current Santa Barbara Botanic Garden (Mission Canyon). The ruins of the Mission’s tanning vats, pottery kiln, aqueduct system, and guard house are located on the abutting land in the municipally-owned Mission Historical Park that was sold to the City in 1928.

In 1818, two Argentine ships under the command of the French privateer Hipólito Bouchard approached the coast and threatened the young town of Santa Barbara. The padres armed and trained 150 of the neophytes to prepare for attack. With their help, the Presidio soldiers confronted Bouchard, who sailed out of the harbor without attacking.

After the Mexican Congress passed An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California on August 17, 1833, Father Presidente Narciso Durán transferred the missions’ headquarters to Santa Barbara, thereby making Mission Santa Barbara the repository of some 3,000 original documents that had been scattered through the California missions.

Santa Ines Mission, Solvang, California
[9] Santa Ines Mission, Solvang, California

[9] Mission Santa Inés (Santa Ynez) is a Spanish mission in the present day city of Solvang, California, and named after St. Agnes of Rome. Founded on September 17, 1804, by Father Estévan Tapís of the Franciscan order, the mission site was chosen as a midway point between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission La Purísima Concepción, and was designed to relieve overcrowding at those two missions and to serve the Indians living north of the Coast Range.

The mission was home to the first learning institution in Alta California and today serves as a museum as well as a parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It is also designated a National Historic Landmark, noted as one of the best-preserved of the twenty-one California missions.

Most of the original church was destroyed on December 21, 1812 in an earthquake centered near Santa Barbara that damaged or destroyed several California missions. The quake also severely damaged other mission buildings, but the complex was not abandoned. A new church was constructed with 5-6 foot thick (1.5 to 1.8 m) walls and great pine beams brought from nearby Figueroa Mountain.

The mission was dedicated on July 4, 1817. A water-powered grist mill was built in 1819, about half a mile from the church. In 1821, a fulling mill was added, designed by newly arrived American immigrant Joseph John Chapman. He oversaw the building of a grist mill for Mission San Gabriel, and he prepared timbers for the construction of the first church in Los Angeles.

The mill he built near San Gabriel is now a museum. Chapman was baptized at San Buenaventura in 1822, and that same year married Guadalupe Ortega of Santa Barbara, with whom he had five children. In 1824, Chapman bought land in Los Angeles and developed a vineyard, but still continued to perform odd jobs at the missions.

On February 21, 1824 a soldier beat a young Chumash Native. Two separate Chumash accounts, written in the early 1900’s, state that around the time the Native was beaten, a Spanish page overheard Santa Inés priests talking about having the Natives of the mission killed the next summer when they arrived. The page was found out by the priests after having alerted the Natives, and his tongue and feet were cut off before he was burned to death.

Upon learning of this news, the Natives sought the help of the other Santa Barbara Channel Mission Natives and a week later the Chumash Revolt of 1824 was sparked. When the fighting was over, the Natives themselves put out the fire that had started at the mission. Many of the Indians left to join other tribes in the mountains. Only a few Natives remained at the mission.

In 1833 the missions in California began to be secularized, however, it was not until 1835 that the Santa Inés Mission became secularized by the Mexican government. Secularization involved replacing the Padres as managers of the missions with government appointed overseers. In this case, the existing Spanish Franciscans were replaced by Mexican Franciscans who were restricted to provide only for the spiritual needs of the Chumash.

The Chumash were mistreated under this new policy and began to leave the mission, returning to their villages or working at settlers’ ranches. As a result, much of their land was given to settlers in land grants.

In about 1912, the mission’s original three-bell campanario, erected in 1817, collapsed in a storm in 1911 and was subsequently replaced by this concrete four-bell version, which also had openings on the side. This tower was replaced in 1948 to restore the original three-niched appearance. It has been compared by architectural historian Rexford Newcomb to the one that originally abutted the façade of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel.

In 1843, California’s Mexican governor Micheltorena granted 34,499 acres (139.61 sq km) of Santa Ynez Valley land, called Rancho Cañada de los Pinos to the College of Our Lady of Refuge, the first seminary in California. Established at the mission by Francisco García Diego y Moreno, first Bishop of California, the college was abandoned in 1881.

Highwayman Jack Powers briefly took over Mission Santa Inés and the adjacent Rancho San Marcos in 1853, intending to rustle the cattle belonging to rancher Nicolas A. Den. Powers was defeated in a bloodless armed confrontation. He was not ousted from the Santa Barbara area until 1855.

The Danish town of Solvang was built up around the mission proper in the early 1900’s. It was through the efforts of Father Alexander Buckler in 1904 that reconstruction of the mission was undertaken though major restoration was not possible until 1947 when the Hearst Foundation donated money to pay for the project. The restoration continues by the Capuchin Franciscan Fathers.

La Purísima Concepción Mission, Lompoc, California
[10] La Purísima Concepción Mission, Lompoc, California

[10] Mission La Purísima Concepción, or La Purísima Mission – originally La Misión de la Purísima Concepción de la Santísima Virgen María – is a Spanish mission in Lompoc, California. It was established on December 8, 1787 by the Franciscan order. The original mission complex south of Lompoc was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812, and the mission was rebuilt at its present site a few miles to the northeast.

The mission is part of the larger La Purísima Mission State Historic Park, part of the California State Parks system, and along with Mission San Francisco de Solano is one of only two of the Spanish missions in California that is no longer under the control of the Catholic Church. It is currently the only example in California of a complete Spanish Catholic mission complex, and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970.

Mission La Purísima was originally established at a site known to the Chumash people as Algsacpi and to the Spanish as the plain of Río Santa Rosa, one mile south of Lompoc. The Viceroyalty of New Spain made an exception to the rule that no California mission was to be established within seven miles of any pueblo in Las Californias, as Lompoc was so small.

By 1803, the Mission Indians population had increased by Indian Reductions to 1,436 Chumash people. At the mission there were also 3,230 cattle, 5,400 sheep, 306 horses, and 39 mules. In the same year, there was a harvest of 690 fanegas of wheat, corn and beans (a fanega equaling about 220 lbs/99.7 kg).

An earthquake on December 21, 1812, severely damaged the mission buildings. New buildings were constructed four miles northeast of the pueblo at their present location, which was known to the Chumash as Amúu, and to the Spanish as La Cañada de los Berros, now part of the reconstructed La Purísima Mission State Historic Park.

After Mexico won the Mexican War of Independence in 1823, Spanish funding ceased to the Santa Barbara Presidio. Many soldiers at the mission who were no longer being paid by the new Mexican government took out their frustrations on the local Chumash Indians. After a soldier apparently beat an Indian at nearby Mission Santa Inés, the Chumash Revolt of 1824 occurred at that mission. It spread to La Purísima Mission, where the Chumash people took over the mission for one month until more soldiers arrived from Monterey Presidio.

Eventually, the Chumash lost their hold on the mission with many leaving the mission soon there after. However, many of the Indians who had sought refuge in the neighboring mountains during the revolt returned to the mission.

Following independent Mexico’s secularization of the Alta California missions from 1834 to 1843, the buildings of La Purísima Mission were abandoned, and the lands were granted Rancho Ex-Mission la Purisima. By 1934, only nine of the buildings remained intact.

In the 20th century, the Civilian Conservation Corps pledged to restore the mission if enough land could be provided to convert it into a historic landmark. The Catholic Church and the Union Oil Company donated sufficient land for the Civilian Conservation Corps to proceed with the restoration. The nine buildings as well as many small structures and the original water system were fully restored with the mission’s dedication occurring on December 7, 1941, the same day the United States entered World War II. Today, La Purísima Mission is the only example in California of a complete mission complex.

San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Luis Obispo, California
[11] San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, San Luis Obispo, California

[11] Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa is a Spanish mission founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra in San Luis Obispo, California. Named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse, the mission is the namesake of San Luis Obispo. Today, it offers tours of the beautiful church, gardens, school and small museum that holds a collection of its artifacts. Unlike other California missions, the San Luis Obispo Mission is open to the public every day of the year and is still a very popular parish for the town’s Catholic community.

The Mission of San Luis Obispo is unusual in its design, in that its combination of belfry and vestibule are found nowhere else among the California missions. Like other churches, the main nave is short and narrow, but at the San Luis Obispo Mission, there is a secondary nave of almost equal size situated to the right of the altar, making it the only L-shaped mission church in California.

In 1769, Gaspar de Portola traveled through California on his way to the Bay of Monterey and discovered the San Luis Obispo area. Expedition diarist and Franciscan missionary Juan Crespí wrote that the soldiers called the place “llano de los osos,” or the “level of the bears.” Since then, mistranslations of Crespi’s diary have called this area “la cañada de los osos,” (the canyon of the bears) which has been further mistranslated as the “valley of the bears.” Portola followed the same route the following year, on his way to establish the Presidio of Monterey. Missionary president Junípero Serra, traveling by sea, met the Portola party there and founded San Carlos Borremeo, in Monterey, which was moved to Carmel the following year.

When food supplies started to dwindle at the mission, Serra remembered the stories of the “valley of the bears.” He decided to send a hunting expedition to San Luis Obispo to help feed the Spanish and neophytes in Monterey. The huge success of the hunting expedition caused Junípero Serra to consider building a mission in that area. Upon further investigation, he was convinced that San Luis Obispo would be a perfect site for a mission, based on its surplus of natural resources, good weather and the Chumash, a local, friendly Native American tribe who could help provide labor. The mission became the fifth in the mission chain founded by Father Junípero Serra.

Father Serra sent an expedition down south to San Luis Obispo to start building the mission, and on September 1, 1772, a cross was erected near San Luis Obispo Creek and Serra celebrated the first mass. However, following the first mass, Father Junípero Serra left the responsibility of construction to Father Jose Cavaller. Father Cavaller, five soldiers and two neophytes began building what is now Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Father Cavaller received help in the building of the mission from the Chumash, who constructed palisades, which would serve as temporary buildings for the mission. However, due to several Native American tribes which were determined to get rid of European settlers, they set these buildings ablaze. Because of this, Father Cavaller was forced to rebuild the buildings using adobe and tile structures.

Beginning in 1794 Mission San Luis Obispo went through extensive building operations. Buildings to accommodate the nearby Native Americans and many improvements to the mission, including storerooms, residences for single women, soldiers barracks and mills were added. The renovation was finally finished after completion of the quadrangle in 1819, and celebrated a year later by the arrival of two mission bells from Lima, Peru. The arrival of the bells marked the end of improvements made to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa for many years. In 1830 Father Luis Gil y Taboada took over the mission, but he died three years later. Then in 1842, the death of Father Ramon Abella marked the last Franciscan at the mission.

In 1845, Governor Pío Pico declared the mission buildings for sale and he sold everything except the church for a total of $510. John C. Frémont and his California Battalion used the mission as a base of operations during their war with Mexico in 1846. The mission fell to ruins during the period of secularization and the priests who were left would rent out rooms to help support the mission. The Mission San Luís Obispo de Tolosa became the first courthouse and jail in San Luis Obispo County, California. In 1850, when California became a part of the United States, the first California bishop, Joseph Alemany, petitioned the Government to return some of the mission lands back to the Church. Since then, it has undergone major civic, political and structural changes, but real restoration did not begin until 1933. The mission is still the center of the busy downtown area, and functions as a Roman Catholic parish church for the City of San Luis Obispo in the Diocese of Monterey. In 1970 the Mission was recognized as the center of the City of San Luis Obispo, with the dedication of Mission Plaza.

San Miguel Arcángel Mission, San Miguel, California
[12] San Miguel Arcángel Mission, San Miguel, California

[12] Mission San Miguel Arcángel is a Spanish mission in San Miguel, San Luis Obispo County, California. It was established on July 25, 1797 by the Franciscan order, on a site chosen specifically due to the large number of Salinan Indians that inhabited the area, whom the Spanish priests wanted to evangelize.

The mission remains in use as a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey. After being closed to the public for six years due to the 2003 San Simeon earthquake, the church reopened on September 29, 2009. Inside the church are murals designed by Esteban Munras.

The mission was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was named to a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Of California’s missions, it is one that retains more than most of its layout and buildings, including a portion of its neophyte village.

Father Fermín Lasuén and Father Buenaventura Sitjar founded the mission on July 25, 1797, making it the sixteenth California mission. Its location between Mission San Luis Obispo and Mission San Antonio de Padua provided a stop on the trip that had previously taken two days. A temporary wooden church was built with living quarters. The site was chosen as it was close to a Salinan Indian village called Vahca. In 1798 the small chapel was replaced. From 1816 to 1818 a new church was constructed with a tile roof and courtyard.

Mission San Miguel Arcángel land was sold off after the Mexican secularization act of 1833. The William Reed family lived in the buildings until 1848, when they were murdered by a band of thieves. The killers were tracked down by a posse in the foothills of Santa Barbara. Two thieves died in the ensuing battle, and the other three were tried and executed by firing squad. Upon secularization, the mission began to decay. Padre Abella, the last Franciscan at San Miguel, died in July, 1841.

In 1859 the U.S. government returned the mission to the Catholic Church. But with the buildings in poor condition, no priests were assigned to the mission; buildings were rented to some small businesses. In 1878 the Church reactivated the mission, and Rev. Philip Farrelly took up residence as First Pastor of Mission San Miguel. In 1928 the mission was returned to the Franciscan Padres, the same group who had founded the mission in 1797.

San Antonio de Padua Mission, Jolon, California
[13] San Antonio de Padua Mission, Jolon, California

As you can see, the further north we travel on this journey, the more severe the earthquakes have become. All of California is prone to earthquakes that happen regularly, but some have been extremely intense, but historically speaking, the more severe and most damaging earthquakes have taken place in the north with the most noteable one being the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 that completely destroyed most, if not all of San Francisco and all of the surrounding areas.

[13] Mission San Antonio de Padua is a Spanish mission established by the Franciscan order in present day Monterey County, California, near the present day town of Jolon. It was founded on July 14, 1771, and was the third mission founded in Alta California by Father Presidente Junípero Serra. The mission was the first use of fired tile roofing in Upper California. Today the mission is a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey and is not active in the mission work which it was set up to provide.

Mission San Antonio de Padua was the third Mission to be founded. Father Junipero Serra claimed the site on July 14, 1771, and dedicated the Mission to Saint Anthony of Padua. Saint Anthony was born in 1195 in Lisbon, Portugal and is the patron saint of the poor. Father Serra left Fathers Miguel Pieras and Buenaventura Sitjar behind to continue the building efforts, though the construction of the church proper did not actually begin until 1810. By that time, there were 178 Native Americans living at the Mission, mostly Northern Salinan but also some Yokuts and Esselen.

By 1805, the number had increased to 1,300, but in 1834, after the secularization laws went into effect, the total number of Mission Indians at the Mission San Antonio were only 150. No town grew up around the Mission, as many did at other installations.

In 1845, Mexican Governor Pío Pico declared all mission buildings in Alta California for sale, but no one bid for Mission San Antonio. In 1863, after nearly 30 years, the Mission was returned to the Catholic Church. In 1894, roof tiles were salvaged from the property and installed on the Southern Pacific Railroad depot located in Burlingame, California, one of the first permanent structures constructed in the Mission Revival Style.

The first attempt to rebuild the Mission came in 1903 when the California Historical Landmarks League began holding outings at San Antonio. Preservation and restoration of Mission San Antonio began. The Native Sons of the Golden West supplied $1,400. Tons of debris were removed from the interior of the chapel. Breaches in the side wall were filled in. Unfortunately, the earthquake of 1906 seriously damaged the building. In 1928, Franciscan friars held services at San Antonio de Padua. It took nearly 50 years to completely restore the Mission. The State of California is requiring a $12–15 million earthquake retrofit that must be completed by 2015, or the mission will be closed. There are 35 private families keeping the mission open, as of 2011. There is an active campaign to raise funds for the retrofit.

Despite still referred to as a mission, the Mission San Antonio de Padua is no longer active in Catholic missions and has become more focused as a parish church, fundraiser location, and tourist attraction. In 2005, the Franciscan Friars turned over the mission’s caretaking and ownership to the Diocese of Monterey. Under the leadership of the Diocese of Monterey, Mission San Antonio de Padua transformed into a Catholic parish which also hosts group gatherings, gift shops and a museum with picnic grounds.

Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Mission, Soledad, California
[14] Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Mission, Soledad, California

[14] Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, known colloquially as the Soledad Mission or “Our Lady of Solitude.” is a Spanish mission located near the present day town of Soledad, California. The mission was founded by the Franciscan order on October 9, 1791, the 13th of twenty-one missions in California, to convert the Native Americans living in the area to Catholicism. It was the thirteenth of California’s Spanish missions, and is named for Mary, Our Lady of Solitude. The town of Soledad is named for the mission.

After the 1835 secularization of the mission and the later sale of building materials, the mission fell into a state of disrepair and soon after was left in ruins. A restoration project began in 1954 and a new chapel was dedicated in 1955. The chapel now functions as a chapel of Our Lady of Solitude, a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey. The priests’ residence was later recreated, and functions as a museum.

The Chalon, a subgroup of the Ohlone were converted and resided there, followed by Esselen and Yokut people. By 1803, there were 627 Mission Indians at Mission Soledad. At the Mission many Chalon married local Esselen speakers, while others married Yokuts were brought into the mission between 1806 and 1834.

The mission’s herds numbered 1,150 cattle, about 5,000 sheep, 30 swine, 670 horses and 40 mules. Spanish Governor José Joaquín de Arrillaga was buried in the chapel after he died on July 24, 1814 during a visit to the Mission.

The mission was inundated by floods in 1824, 1828, and 1832, and following secularization when Pio Pico sold the mission for a reported $800, the remaining buildings were looted for supplies.

In 1954, when the Mission Soledad restoration was begun, only piles of adobe dirt and a few wall sections from the cuadrángulo remained. The chapel was reconstructed and dedicated under the auspices of the Native Daughters of the Golden West on October 9, 1955. The ruins of the quadrangle, cemetery, and some of the outer rooms, while not restored, can still be seen. Governor Arrillaga’s grave was identified and given a new marker. The Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad is now a functioning Catholic chapel and public museum.

San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo Mission, Carmel-By-The-Sea, California
[15] San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo Mission, Carmel-By-The-Sea, California

[15] Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo, or Misión de San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, first built in 1797, is one of the most authentically restored Roman Catholic mission churches in California. Located at the mouth of Carmel Valley, California, it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

From 1797 until 1833, Carmel Mission was the headquarters of all Alta California missions. It was headed by Saint Junípero Serra from 1770 until his death in 1784. It was also the seat of the second missions presidente, Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, who was in charge of completing nine more mission churches.

In 1833 the mission buildings and lands were secularized by the Mexican government. By the mid 19th century, the Carmel Mission structures had fallen into disrepair. The chapel was saved from total destruction when the roof was rebuilt in 1884. In 1886, ownership of the mission was transferred from a group of Franciscans to the Diocese of Monterey. Ever since, Carmel Mission has been a parish within that Diocese.

Beginning in 1931, Harry Downie began restoring the mission and worked continuously on the project for the next 50 years. It is the only Spanish mission in California that has its original bell and bell tower.

Mission Carmel, was the second mission built by Franciscan missionaries in Upper California. It was first established as Mission San Carlos Borromeo in Monterey, California near the native village of Tamo on June 3, 1770 by Father Junípero Serra. It was named for Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan, Italy, and was the site of the first Christian confirmation in Alta California. When the mission moved, the original building continued to operate as the Royal Presidio chapel and later became the current Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo.

Pedro Fages, who served as military governor of Alta California from 1770 to 1774, kept his headquarters in the polity’s capitol, at the Presidio of Monterey. Fages worked his men very harshly and was seen as a tyrant. Serra intervened on behalf of Fages’ soldiers, and the two men did not get along. Fages regarded the Spanish installations in California as military institutions first, and religious outposts second. Serra wanted to put some distance between the mission’s neophytes and Fages’ soldiers.

Serra found that the land near the mouth of the Carmel River – named Río del Carmelo by Vizcaíno in 1603 – was better suited for farming. In May 1771, Spain’s viceroy approved Serra’s petition to relocate the mission. The mission was established in the new location on August 1, 1771. The first mass was celebrated on August 24, and Serra officially took up residence in the newly constructed buildings on December 24.

The name of the relocated mission was extended to Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo. It was within a short distance of the Rumsen Ohlone villages of Tucutnut and Achasta. The latter village may have been founded after Mission San Carlos was relocated to Carmel Valley. The mission was about 10 miles (16 km) from the nearest Esselen territory, Excelen.

Mission Carmel, as it came to be known, was Serra’s favorite, and because it was close to Monterey, the capital of Alta California, he chose it as his headquarters. When he died on August 28, 1784, he was interred beneath the chapel floor. After Serra’s death, Father Fermín Lasuén replaced the adobe structure with one made of stone quarried from the nearby Santa Lucia Mountains.

After the Carmel mission was moved to the mouth of Carmel Valley, the Franciscans began to baptize some natives. By the end of 1771, the population of the mission was 15 with an additional 22 baptized Indians, out of a total population of northern California of 60.

Farming was not very productive and for several years the mission was dependent upon the arrival of supply ships. Historian Jame Culleton wrote in 1950, “The summer of 1773 came without bringing the supply ship. Neither Carmel nor Monterey was anything like self-supporting.”

To improve baptismal rates, they sought to convert key members of the Esselen and Rumsen tribes, including chiefs. On May 9, 1775, Junípero Serra baptized what appears to be the first Esselen, Pach-hepas, the 40 year old chief of the Excelen. He was near death and was baptized in his home village at Xasáuan, about 10 leagues (about 26 miles 42 km) southeast of the mission, in an area now named Cachagua, a close approximation of the Esselen name.

The Esselen and Ohlone Indians who lived near the mission were baptized and then forcibly relocated and conscripted as forced laborers. Over the years about 900 Esselen were baptized and brought to the three missions at Carmel Valley, Soledad, and San Antonio that surrounding their native land. There was extensive comingling of the Costanoan with peoples of different linguistic and cultural background during the mission period. The neophytes were taught to be farmers, shepherds, cowboys, blacksmiths, carpenters, bricklayers, furniture makers, tanners, weavers and candle makers. Disease, starvation, overwork, and torture decimated these tribes. The number of natives who died at the missions were high. Deaths exceeded births and the population at Mission San Carlos peaked in 1795, when the population reached a total reported variously as either 876 or 927, but by 1823 the total had dwindled to 381.

In the beginning, the mission relied on bear meat from Mission San Antonio de Padua and supplies brought by ship from Mission San Diego de Alcalá. In 1779, four years after the first Esselen baptism, the native Americans at Carmel Mission harvested 1,660 bushels of wheat, 700 bushels of barley, 165 bushels of beans, and 85 bushels of maize. Four years later, the native laborers produced enough crops to support 700 people. The mission had more than 500 cattle and sheep.

Carmel mission continued to grow during most of the 18th century. By 1800, agriculture production at Carmel Mission was near its peak. The Mission reported to Mexico that it had 2,180 horses and cattle, and 4,160 smaller livestock, including sheep. The total grain harvested was about 3,700 bushels per year with a high of 7,400 in 1797. In December 1832, the mission reported to Mexico that it had 2,100 cattle, 3,300 sheep, 410 horses, and 8 mules.

The Mexican government was concerned that the missions remained loyal to the Catholic Church in Spain. Only eight months later, in August 1833, the government secularized all of the missions and their valuable lands. The government stipulated that half the mission lands should be awarded to the native people, but this purpose was never accomplished. Most mission property was bought by government officials or their wealthy friends. The priests could not maintain the missions without the Indians’ forced labor and the mission and lands were soon abandoned. The Indians were forced from the mission by the new landowners. Some attempted to return to their native ways, and others found work as ranch hands or servants on farms and ranches.

By 1850, the mission was nearly a ruin. The stone chapel building was deteriorating while most of the adobe buildings were eroding away. The roof collapsed in 1852.

When Mexico ceded California to the United States following the Mexican–American War, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored, but required that the owners provide legal proof of their title. As required by the Land Act of 1851, Archbishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany filed a claim on February 19, 1853 on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church. He sought return of all former mission lands in the State. The state agreed to return the original mission buildings, cemeteries, and gardens to the church.

When the Roman Catholic Church gained full control of the buildings on October 19, 1859, the mission was in ruins. In 1884 Father Angel Casanova was able to gather enough private funds to replace the roof on the chapel sufficient to preserve it until the 1930s. In 1931 Monsignor Philip Scher hired master cabinet maker Henry John Downie who had an excellent reputation for restoring Spanish antiques. Scher initially asked Downie to restore some statues at the Carmel Mission but his job quickly expanded and he was put in charge of restoring the entire mission. Two years later, the church transferred the mission from the Franciscans to the local diocese and it became a regular parish church. Downie lived nearby in Carmel and worked almost daily for nearly 50 years to restore the mission, ancillary buildings, walls, and grounds. He painstakingly researched the church’s architecture and site, often relying on original Spanish sources, and gathered genuine artifacts from across California.

He first restored the padres’ quarters, then the roof of the chapel in 1936, and over the next five years the interior of the basilica. In 1941, he oversaw restoration of the former soldiers’ quarters on the east side of the quadrangle. In 1943 he began restoration of a building that had been on the south side of the quadrangle, although nothing was left but the eroded adobe foundation and a few ruined walls. The building was originally a segregated, locked dormitory for girls called the monjero. They were separated from their families at age 8. The boys and unmarried men also had their own dormitory, though it was less confining.

The building was reconstructed and made into classrooms for Junipero Serra Elementary School. In 1946, the ruin on the east side of the quadrangle that had been the original padre’s kitchen and a blacksmith shop was rebuilt. It is used today as a chapel. Downie also consulted on the restoration of the missions that are considered the most authentic, including San Luis Obispo, San Juan Bautista, and San Buenaventura. He also helped the Native Daughters of the Golden West to reconstruct Mission Soledad. He was knighted by Pope Pius and by King Juan Carlos of Spain.

In 1960, the mission was designated as a minor basilica by Pope John XXIII. In 1987, Pope John Paul II visited the mission as part of his U.S. tour.

The original bell nicknamed Ave Maria was made in Mexico City in 1807. It was placed at the Mission in 1820. When the mission was secularized in 1834, the bell was removed and held onto by local Native Americans for safekeeping. It was finally lost, but relocated once again, during restoration. It was re-installed in the mission bell tower in 1925.

As a result of Downie’s dedicated efforts to restore the buildings, the Carmel mission church is one of the most authentically restored of all the mission churches in California. Mission Carmel has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. It is an active parish church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey.

In addition to its activity as a place of worship, Mission Carmel also hosts concerts, art exhibits, lectures, and numerous other community events. In 1986, then-pastor Monsignor Eamon MacMahon acquired a Casavant Frères organ with horizontal trumpets. Its hand-painted casework is decorated with elaborate carvings and statuary reflecting the Spanish decorative style seen on the main altar.

The mission also serves as a museum, preserving its own history and the history of the area. There are four specific museum galleries: the Harry Downie Museum, describing restoration efforts; the Munras Family Heritage Museum, describing the history of one of the most important area families; the Jo Mora Chapel Gallery, hosting rotating art exhibits as well as the monumental bronze and travertine cenotaph (1924) sculpted by Jo Mora and the Convento Museum, which holds the cell Serra lived and died in, as well as interpretive exhibits. At one end of the museum is a special chapel room containing some of the vestments used by Serra.

The mission grounds are also the location of the Junípero Serra School, a private Catholic school for kindergarteners through 8th grade. At the end of the 2019-2020 academic year, it was announced that the school is closed.

In 2012, the Carmel Mission Foundation began a project to restore the roof of the basilica installed during an earlier restoration in 1937. The project was the third major reconstruction of the basilica since it was built in 1797. The contractor installed additional wood and steel beams to reinforce and tie the roof structure together. To strengthen the walls, they drilled over 300 center-cored vertical and horizontal holes in the 5 feet (1.5 m) thick walls, into which they inserted steel rods that were grouted in place. The project also updated the electrical system and added a fire suppression system. The interior lighting was replaced and custom-made chandeliers were added. The project upgraded the radiant heating system and included construction of an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant restroom. The project was funded by the Carmel Mission Foundation, which raised about $6.2 million.

In 2016, the foundation funded reconstruction of the Quadrangle Courtyard at a cost of $2.0 million. The uneven, cracked concrete surface was a hazard. It was removed and new water and fire lines, drains, sewer, electrical, and communications lines were installed before a more durable concrete surface was poured.

The foundation is planning a larger $20 million project in time for the 250th anniversary of the basilica in 2020. It includes seismic retrofits, infrastructure improvements, and restoration of the several historic structures, including the Downie Museum and Orientation Center, Mora Chapel Museum, Convento Museum, and Blessed Sacrament Chapel.

On September 27, 2015, in response to Serra’s canonization, the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission was vandalized. The statue of Serra was toppled and splattered with paint, and the cemetery, the mission doors, a fountain, and a crucifix were as well. The message “Saint of Genocide” was painted on the ground, and similar messages were painted elsewhere in the mission courtyard.

San Juan Bautista Mission, San Juan Bautista, California
[16] San Juan Bautista Mission, San Juan Bautista, California

[16] Mission San Juan Bautista is a Spanish mission in San Juan Bautista, San Benito County, California. Founded on June 24, 1797 by Fermín Lasuén of the Franciscan order, the mission was the 15th of the twenty-one Spanish missions established in present day California. Named for Saint John the Baptist, the mission is the namesake of the city of San Juan Bautista.

Barracks for the soldiers, a nunnery, the Jose Castro House, and other buildings were constructed around a large grassy plaza in front of the church and can be seen today in their original form. The Ohlone, the original residents of the valley, were brought to live at the mission and baptized, followed by Yokuts from the Central Valley. Mission San Juan Bautista has served mass daily since 1797, and today functions as a parish church of the Diocese of Monterey.

Following its creation in 1797, San Juan’s population grew quickly. By 1803, there were 1,036 Native Americans living at the mission. Ranching and farming activity had moved at pace, with 1,036 cattle, 4,600 sheep, 22 swine, 540 horses and 8 mules counted that year. At the same time, the harvest of wheat, barley and corn was estimated at 2,018 fanegas, each of about 220 pounds (99.7 kg).

Father Pedro Estévan Tápis – who had a special talent for music – joined Father Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, at Mission San Juan Bautista in 1815 to teach singing to the Indians. He employed a system of notation developed in Spain that uses varied colors or textures for polyphonic music, usually from bottom to top, solid black, solid red, black outline, sometimes solid yellow and red outline or black outline when yellow was used. His choir of Native American boys performed for many visitors, earning the San Juan Bautista Mission the nickname “the Mission of Music.” Two of his handwritten choir books are preserved at the San Juan Bautista Museum. When Father Tapis died in 1825, he was buried on the mission grounds. The town of San Juan Bautista, which grew up around the mission, expanded rapidly during the California Gold Rush and continues to be a thriving community today.

The mission is situated adjacent to the San Andreas Fault, and has suffered damage from numerous earthquakes, such as those of 1800 and 1906. However, the mission was never entirely destroyed at once. It was restored initially in 1884, and then again in 1949 with funding from the Hearst Foundation. The three-bell campanario, or bell wall, located by the church entrance, was fully restored in 2010. An unpaved stretch of the original El Camino Real, just east of the mission, lies on a fault scarp.

Although initially secularized in 1835, the church was reconsecrated by the Roman Catholic Church in 1859, and continues to serve as a parish of the Diocese of Monterey. The mission includes a cemetery, with the remains of over 4,000 Native American converts and Europeans buried there.

The mission and its grounds were featured prominently in the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo. Associate producer Herbert Coleman’s daughter Judy Lanini suggested the mission to Hitchcock as a filming location. A steeple, added sometime after the mission’s original construction and secularization, had been demolished following a fire, so Hitchcock added a bell tower using scale models, matte paintings, and trick photography at the Paramount studio in Los Angeles. The tower does not resemble the original steeple. The tower’s staircase was assembled inside a studio.

Santa Cruz Mission, Santa Cruz, California
[17] Santa Cruz Mission, Santa Cruz, California

[17] Mission Santa Cruz or La Misión de la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz, is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order in present day Santa Cruz, California. The mission was founded in 1791 and named for the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, adopting the name given to a nearby creek by the missionary priest Juan Crespi, who accompanied the explorer Gaspar de Portolá when he camped on the banks of the San Lorenzo River on October 17, 1769.

As with the other California missions, Mission Santa Cruz served as a site for ecclesiastical conversion of natives, first the Amah Mutsun people, the original inhabitants of the region renamed the “Ohlone” by the Spaniards, and later the Yokuts from the east. The settlement was the site of the first autopsy in Alta California.

The current Holy Cross Church was built on the site of the original mission church in 1889, and it remains an active parish of the Diocese of Monterey. A section of stone foundation wall from one of the mission buildings and a few old headstones from the mission cemetery can be found directly behind the present Holy Cross Church. A reduced-scale chapel was built near the mission site in the 1930s and functions as a chapel of Holy Cross Church. Today’s Plaza Park occupies the same location as the original plaza, at the center of the former mission complex. The complex at one time included as many as 32 buildings. The only surviving mission building, a dormitory for native acolytes, has been restored to its original appearance and functions as a museum of the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park.

The Santa Cruz mission was originally consecrated by Padre Fermin Lasuen on August 28, 1791, on the San Lorenzo river’s flood plain. It was one of the smaller missions in the fourth military district under protection of the Presidio of San Francisco. The mission was flooded as the San Lorenzo swelled with the rains that winter. Over the next three years, the padres rebuilt the mission on the hill overlooking the river.

In 1797, the secular pueblo of Branciforte was founded across the San Lorenzo River to the east of Mission Santa Cruz. The mission padres did not welcome the location of the pueblo so close to the mission, and accused the Branciforte settlers of gambling, smuggling and tempting the native acolytes to desert the mission.

On October 12, 1812, Father Andrés Quintana was strangled to death by mission neophytes, angry over his use of a metal-tipped whip in the punishment of laborers, Native Americans, and Native children.

In 1818, the Mission received advance warning of an attack by the Argentine corsair Hipólito Bouchard and was evacuated. The citizens of Branciforte, several of whom were retired soldiers, were asked to protect the Mission’s valuables. Instead, they were later accused by the priests of stealing.

One of the only surviving first-person descriptions by a native Californian of life in a mission was given in an interview by Lorenzo Asisara in 1877. Asisara was born at Mission Santa Cruz in 1819. His father was one of the neophytes involved in the Quintana killing, and Asisara repeated the story his father had told him about those events.

The front wall of the adobe mission, built in 1794, were destroyed by the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake. A wooden facade was added and the structure converted to other uses. A new wooden church was built next door in 1858. In 1889, the current Gothic Revival-style Holy Cross Church was built over part of the original sanctuary and cemetery. The cemetery wall was defined in 1993 and developed as a memorial and native plant garden.

At the same time, the mission cemetery was excavated and the remains moved to a mass grave at Old Holy Cross Cemetery, a few miles to the east. In recent years, a group of local volunteers have been working to restore the old cemetery, and to identify the mission gravesite and those whose remains were moved there. A memorial was dedicated in 2016.

The only original Mission building left is a long multi-room building which at one time housed local Yokut and Ohlone Native American families. There is also a protected remnant of the mission church foundation wall behind the current Holy Cross Church. The road leading to the mission from the west is called Mission Street, which is also part of California Pacific Coast Highway One.

In 1931, Gladys Sullivan Doyle proposed to construct a reduced-size replica of the original chapel. She contributed all of the construction costs, on the condition that she be allowed to be buried inside. Her grave can be viewed in a small side room. Since there were no surviving photographs or drawings of the original structure, design of the replica chapel was adapted from an 1876 painting by the French painter Léon Trousset. The original painting hangs in the nave of the chapel.

The concrete construction was done by parishioner Tranquilino Costella, an Italian immigrant, whose contractor stamp is still seen in the sidewalk in front of the mission. The small replica chapel is mainly used for private services, daily Masses, and Morning Prayer on Saturday. An adjoining room functions as a gift shop. A stone fountain from the original mission complex stands in the garden behind the gift shop.

The only surviving original adobe mission building, a dormitory for Native American residents, has been restored as part of the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park as the Neary-Rodriguez Adobe. The Santa Cruz Mission is designated California Historical Landmark number 342. The Neary-Rodriguez Adobe was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Santa Cruz County, California as site number 75000484 on February 24, 1975, and the Mission Hill Area as a United States Historic District as site number 76000530 on May 17, 1976.

Santa Clara de Asís Mission, Santa Clara, California
[18] Santa Clara de Asís Mission, Santa Clara, California

[18] Mission Santa Clara de Asís is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order in the present day city of Santa Clara, California. The mission, which was the eighth in California, was founded on January 12, 1777. Named for Saint Clare of Assisi, the founder of the order of the Poor Clares and was an early companion of St. Francis of Assisi, this was the first California mission to be named in honor of a woman.

It is the namesake of both the city and county of Santa Clara, as well as of Santa Clara University, which was built around the mission. This is the only mission now located on the grounds of a university campus. Although ruined and rebuilt six times, the settlement was never abandoned, and today it functions as the university chapel for Santa Clara University.

The outpost was originally established as La Misión Santa Clara de Thamien at the Indian village of So-co-is-u-ka – meaning Laurelwood – on January 12, 1777. There the Franciscan brothers erected a cross and shelter for worship to bring Christianity to the Ohlone and Costanoan peoples. Floods, fires, and earthquakes damaged many of the early structures and forced relocation to higher ground. The second site is known as Mission Santa Clara de Asís. A subsequent site of the mission dating from 1784 to 1819 is located several hundred yards west of the De La Cruz overpass of the Caltrain track. Moreover, several Native American burial sites have been discovered near this subsequent site. The current site, home to the first college in Alta California, dates back to 1828.

Initially, there was tension between the people of the mission and those in the nearby Pueblo de San Josè over disputed ownership rights of land and water. The tension was relieved when a road – Alameda – was built by two hundred Indians to link the communities together. On Sundays, people from San Jose would come to the mission for services, until the building of St. Joseph’s Church in 1803. In that year, the mission of Santa Clara reported an Indian population of 1,271. In the same tabular report, its resident priest estimated that 10,000 cattle, 9,500 sheep, 730 horses, 35 mules, and 55 swine were on mission lands, while about 3,000 fanegas of grain – 220 pounds – 99.7 kg – each of wheat, barley or corn had been harvested.

After the Mexican secularization act of 1833 most of the mission’s land and livestock was sold off by Mexico. The mission land was subdivided, and the land sold to whoever could afford it which often meant it was sold to government officials and with half of the mission land going to Native Americans. Most of the buildings continued to be used as a parish church, unlike the other missions in California. By 1836, the mission Native Americans were freed by the Mexican government. The local land near the mission had drastically changed in the 60 years of mission operation under the Spanish and many of the native plants needed for Native American survival were gone, requiring a change from the former lifestyle for many Native Americans. Many Native Americans fled to the Central Valley of California, others stayed locally and worked for the new ranchos. There were a few small and short-lived Native American villages established around the Bay Area by 1839. Many of these villages could not support themselves, so they began raiding the nearby ranchos.

In 1850, California became a state. With that change, priests of the Jesuit order took over the Mission Santa Clara de Asís in 1851 from the Franciscans. Father John Nobili, was put in charge of the mission. He began a college on the mission site in 1851, which grew into Santa Clara University. It is the only mission to become part of a university, and it is also the oldest university in California. Throughout the history of the mission, the bells have rung faithfully every evening, a promise made to King Charles III of Spain when he sent the original bells to the mission in 1777. He asked that the bells be rung each evening at 8:30 in memory of those who had died. Although the actual bells have since been replaced by a recording. The bell tower has three bells; one was donated by King Carlos IV but subsequently destroyed in a fire. King Alphonso XIII donated a replacement bell, which is on display in the de Saisset Museum.

In 1861, a new wooden façade with two bell towers was attached over the old adobe front of the building. The interior was widened in 1885 to increase the seating capacity by removing the original adobe nave walls. A fire in 1925 destroyed the structure, including the surrounding wall. The church’s parochial functions were transferred to the Saint Clare Parish west of the campus. A rebuilt and restored Mission Santa Clara was consecrated in 1929, when it assumed its primary modern function as chapel and centerpiece of the university campus. It is open to visitors daily. The mission museum is located in the university’s De Saisset Museum. The original mission cemetery, still in use, is located on nearby Lincoln Street.

San José Mission, Fremont, California
[19] San José Mission, Fremont, California

[19] Mission San José is a Spanish mission located in the present day city of Fremont, California. It was founded on June 11, 1797, by the Franciscan order and was the fourteenth Spanish mission established in California. The mission is the namesake of the Mission San José district of Fremont, which was an independent town subsumed into the city when it was incorporated in 1957. The Mission entered a long period of gradual decline after Mexican secularization act of 1833. After suffering decline, neglect and earthquakes most of the mission was in ruins. Restoration efforts in the intervening periods have reconstructed many of the original structures. The old mission church remains in use as a chapel of Saint Joseph Catholic Church, a parish of the Diocese of Oakland. The museum also features a visitor center, museum, and slide show telling the history of the mission.

San José was originally going to be built by Juan Crespí in what is now the San Ramon Valley. However, the Native Americans living in that area were very hostile towards the Spanish. So the Spanish decided to move the Mission further south to what is now Fremont, California.

Work on the site of Mission San Jose commenced in May 1797 by Native American people from Mission Santa Clara, 13 miles (20 km) to the south, under the direction of Franciscan missionaries and secular Hispanic overseers. The location, on slopes overlooking the Fremont plain on the east side of San Francisco Bay, had been inhabited for countless generations by Indians who spoke the San Francisco Bay Ohlone language. The Ohlone lived a hunting and wild-plant harvesting lifestyle. Their food included seeds, roots, berries, the flour from acorns, small game, deer, fish, and shellfish.

In 1797 most of the Indians, from the immediate vicinity of the mission site had actually already been baptized at Mission Santa Clara, 13 miles (20 km) to the south, during the 1780’s and early 1790’s. It was these people who returned home to form the founding population of the new community. Mission San José’s walls were 5 ft thick. The church is 126 feet long, 30 feet wide, 24 feet high; made of adobe and redwood, the floor and the wall are made of tiles.

By the end of 1800, the neophyte population had risen to 277, including both Ohlone and Bay Miwok speakers. By the end of 1805, all Indians of the East Bay south of Carquinez Strait were at the missions. After a devastating measles epidemic that reduced the mission population by one quarter in 1806, people from more distant areas and new language groups began to join the Mission San Jose community.

The first such language group was the Yokuts or Yokutsan, whose speakers began to move to Mission San José from the San Joaquin Valley in 1810. Members of two more language groups, the Coast Miwok from present Sonoma County and Patwin from present Napa and Solano counties, moved down to Mission San Jose in the 1812–1818 period, but in smaller numbers than the Yokuts.

By 1825 Delta Yokuts were the dominant language in the multi-lingual community of 1,796 people. Over the next few years speakers of yet another language group, Plains Miwok, moved to the mission from the north side of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. By the time Mission San Jose was closed as an agricultural commune in the mid 1830’s, Plains Miwok were the predominant native language among its neophyte Indian people.

Father Narciso Durán became the pastor of the mission in 1806 and remained until he was replaced by Father José González Rubio in February 1833 as part of a post-independence policy requiring the replacement of Spanish born clerics with those born in Mexico. Durán trained the neophytes in music, organizing both a choir and a 30 piece orchestra that became famous throughout California. While at San José, Father Durán twice served as Father Presidente of the Franciscan missions.

The Mission’s first permanent Adobe church was dedicated with great ceremony on April 22, 1809. Valuable gifts of vestments, sacred vessels, religious statues, and paintings attest to the generosity of friends of the Mission in the Bay Area and abroad. The majority of vestments in the modern collection date from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The silken fabrics and embroideries were products of various textile centers of the Spanish Empire, whose suppliers extended from Europe to Asia. Mission San José was the center of industry and agriculture. The site was chosen for the abundance of natural resources of the area including water, fertile ground, stones, and adobe soil suitable for building. Thousands of cattle roamed the Mission ranges, and acres of wheat and other crops were planted and harvested under the direction of the Padres. In 1868, it produced 4,070 bushels of wheat and much produce, including grapes, olives, and figs.

In 1832, the Mission’s 12,000 cattle, 13,000 horses, and 12,000 sheep roamed Mission lands from present day Oakland to San Jose. San José was one of the most prosperous of all of the California missions. An 1833 inventory prepared by Father José González Rubio lists a church, monastery, guardhouse, guest house, and a women’s dormitory, in addition to the thousands of acres of crops and grazing land. This prosperity was not to last long. On August 17 of that year, the Mexican Congress passed An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California.

San Francisco de Asís - Dolores, San Francisco, California
[20] San Francisco de Asís – Dolores, San Francisco, California

[20] Mission San Francisco de Asís, or Mission Dolores, is the oldest surviving structure in San Francisco and the sixth religious settlement established as part of the California chain of missions. The Mission was founded on October 9, 1776, by Francisco Palóu, a companion of Junípero Serra and Co-founder Fray Pedro Benito Cambón, both members of the de Anza Expedition, which had been charged with bringing Spanish settlers to Alta California and with evangelizing the local Natives, the Ohlone. Some of the Mission’s buildings have been turned into businesses, including a print shop and several saloons.

The settlement was named for St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Franciscan Order, but was also commonly known as “Mission Dolores” owing to the presence of a nearby creek named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, meaning “Our Lady of Sorrows Creek.” During the expedition of Juan Bautista de Anza, this site was identified by Pedro Font as the most suitable site for a mission in the San Francisco area.

The original Mission was a small structure dedicated on October 9, 1776, after the required church documents arrived. It was located near what is today the intersection of Camp and Albion Streets – according to some sources – about a block-and-a-half east of the surviving adobe Mission building, and on the shores of the now filled Laguna de Los Dolores. A historical marker at that location depicts this lake, but whether it ever actually existed is a matter of some dispute. Creek geologists Janet Sowers and Christopher Richard propose that the legendary lake is the result of misunderstandings of Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1776 writings. According to their 2011 hydrological map, there were no lakes in the area, only creeks.

The present Mission church, near what is now the intersection of Dolores and 16th Streets, was dedicated in 1791. At the time of dedication, a mural painted by native labor adorned the focal wall of the chapel. The Mission was constructed of adobe and was part of a complex of buildings used for housing, agricultural, and manufacturing enterprises. Though most of the Mission complex, including the quadrangle and Convento, has either been altered or demolished outright during the intervening years, the façade of the Mission chapel has remained relatively unchanged since its construction in 1782–1791.

According to Mission historian Brother Guire Cleary, the early 19th century saw the greatest period of activity at San Francisco de Asís. At its peak in 1810–1820, the average Indian population at Pueblo Dolores was about 1,100 people. The California missions were not only houses of worship, but they were farming communities, manufacturers of all sorts of products, hotels, ranches, hospitals, schools, and the centers of the largest communities in the state.

In 1810 the Mission owned 11,000 sheep, 11,000 cows, and thousands of horses, goats, pigs, and mules. Its ranching and farming operations extended as far south as San Mateo and east to Alameda. Horses were corralled on Potrero Hill, and the milking sheds for the cows were located along Dolores Creek at what is today Mission High School. Twenty looms were kept in operation to process wool into cloth. The circumference of the Mission’s holdings was said to have been about 125 miles (201 km).

The Mission chapel, along with Father Serra’s Church at Mission San Juan Capistrano, is one of only two surviving buildings where Junípero Serra is known to have officiated. In 1817, Mission San Rafael Arcángel was established as an Asistencia to act as a hospital for the Mission, though it would later be granted full mission status in 1822. The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) strained relations between the Mexican government and the California missions. Supplies were scant and the Indians who worked at the missions continued to suffer terrible losses from disease and cultural disruption – more than 5,000 Indians are thought to have been buried in the cemetery adjacent to the Mission.

In 1834, the Mexican government enacted secularization laws whereby most church properties were sold or granted to private owners. In practical terms, this meant that the missions would hold title only to the churches, the residences of the priests, and a small amount of land surrounding the church for use as gardens. In the period that followed, Mission Dolores fell on very hard times. By 1842, only eight Christian Indians were living at the Mission.

The California Gold Rush brought renewed activity to the Mission Dolores area. In the 1850’s, two plank roads were constructed from what is today downtown San Francisco to the Mission, and the entire area became a popular resort and entertainment district.

Some of the Mission properties were sold or leased for use as saloons and gambling halls. Racetracks were constructed, and fights between bulls and bears were staged for crowds. The Mission complex also underwent alterations. Part of the Convento was converted to a two-story wooden wing for use as a seminary and priests’ quarters, while another section became the Mansion House, a popular tavern and way station for travelers. By 1876, the Mansion House portion of the Convento had been razed and replaced with a large Gothic Revival brick church, designed to serve the growing population of immigrants who were now making the Mission area their home.

During this period, wood clapboard siding was applied to the original adobe chapel walls as both a cosmetic and a protective measure. The veneer was later removed when the Mission was restored. During the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The adjacent brick church was destroyed. By contrast, the original adobe Mission, though damaged, remained in relatively good condition. However, the ensuing fire touched off by the earthquake reached almost to the Mission’s doorstep.

To prevent the spread of the fire, the Convent and School of Notre Dame across the street was dynamited by firefighters. Nevertheless, nearly all the blocks east of Dolores Street and north of 20th street were consumed by the fires. In 1913, construction began on a new church – now known as the Mission Dolores Basilica – adjacent to the Mission, which was completed in 1918. This structure was further remodeled in 1926 with churrigueresque ornamentation inspired by the Panama-California Exposition held in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

A sensitive restoration of the original adobe Mission was undertaken in 1917 by architect Willis Polk. In 1952, San Francisco Archbishop John J. Mitty announced that Pope Pius XII had elevated Mission Dolores to the status of a Minor Basilica. This was the first designation of a basilica west of the Mississippi and the fifth basilica named in the United States.

Today, the larger, newer church is called “Mission Dolores Basilica” while the original adobe structure retains the name of Mission Dolores. The interior of the Mission chapeolores, and the much larger Mission District is named for it as well. The current Pastor of Mission Dolores is Reverend Francis Mark P. Garbo. The current Curator of Mission Dolores is Andrew A. Galvan

San Rafael Arcángel Mission, San Rafael, California
[21] San Rafael Arcángel Mission, San Rafael, California

[21] Mission San Rafael Arcángel was founded in 1817 as a medical asistencia – sub-mission – of Mission San Francisco de Asís. It was a hospital to treat sick Native Americans, making it Alta California’s first sanitarium. The weather was much better than in San Francisco, which helped the ill get better. It was not intended to be a stand-alone mission, but nevertheless grew and prospered and was granted full mission status on October 19, 1822.

This was one of the missions turned over to the Mexican government in 1833 after the Mexican secularization act of 1833. In 1840, there were 150 Indians still at the Mission. By 1844, Mission San Rafael Arcángel had been abandoned. What was left of the empty buildings was sold for $8,000 in 1846. The Mission was used by John C. Fremont as his headquarters during the Bear Flag Revolt.

On June 28, 1846, three men departed the mission, including Kit Carson, and murdered three unarmed Californians under the order of John C. Fremont: Don José R. Berreyesa, father of José de los Santos Berreyesa, along with the twin sons of Don Francisco de Haro, Ramon and Francisco De Haro.

In 1847, a priest was once again living at the Mission. A new parish church was built near the old chapel ruins in 1861, and in 1870, the rest of the ruins were removed to make room for the City of San Rafael. All that was left of the Mission was a single pear tree from the old Mission’s orchard. It is for this reason that San Rafael is known as the most obliterated of California’s missions.

In 1949, a replica of the chapel was built next to the current Saint Raphael’s Church on the site of the original hospital in San Rafael, California which was built in 1919.

Solano Mission, San Francisco, California
[22] Solano Mission, San Francisco, California

[22] Mission San Francisco Solano was the 21st, last, and northernmost mission in Alta California. It was the only mission built in Alta California after Mexico gained independence from Spain. The difficulty of its beginning demonstrates the confusion resulting from that change in governance. The California Governor wanted a robust Mexican presence north of the San Francisco Bay to keep the Russians who had established Fort Ross on the Pacific coast from moving further inland. A young Franciscan friar from Mission San Francisco de Asis wanted to move to a location with a better climate and access to a larger number of potential converts.

The experiment was successful, given its short eleven year life, but was smaller in number of converts and with lower productivity and diversity of industries than the older California missions. The mission building is now part of the Sonoma State Historic Park and is located in the city of Sonoma, California.

Fr. José Altimira at age 33 arrived from Barcelona, Spain, to serve at Mission San Francisco de Asís. The mission was not thriving because of its climate and had established a medical asistencia in San Rafael to help the mission’s ill neophytes recover their health. California Governor Luis Argüello was interested in blocking the Russians at Bodega Bay and Fort Ross from moving further inland. Together they developed and presented to the church authorities and the territory a plan for moving Mission San Francisco de Asís and the San Rafael asistencia to a new location north of the Bay. The legislature approved but the church authorities did not respond. Under the old Spanish regime, founding a new mission required the approval of both New Spain’s Bishop and the King’s Viceroy.

Beginning in 1823, while waiting for a response from the church authorities, Fr. Altimira, with military escorts began exploring north of the San Franciso Bay for a suitable mission site. On July 4, 1823, the soldiers placed a large redwood cross on the place in the Sonoma Valley where they expected the new Mission San Francisco de Assis to be established. They then celebrated Mass to consecrate the location. They then returned south to begin gathering men and materials to begin construction.

The area around the selected site was not empty. It was near the northeast corner of the territory of the Coast Miwok, Southern Pomo to the northwest, Wappo to the northeast, Suisunes and Ptwin peoples to the east. A detachment of soldiers from the Presidio of San Francisco would be provided to protect the Mission and guard the neophytes.

Altimira with soldiers and neophytes primarily from Mission San Francisco de Asís returned to the Sonoma area near the end of August. Altimira decided there was a better place to build on the other side of the valley. Just after starting he received a letter from Father-President Sarria who refused Altimira permission to continue building. Fr. Altimira obeyed and the month of September saw continuing negotiations between California’s civil and religious leaders. On September 30 an agreement was reached, a new mission could be built and Fr. Altimira would be its minister, but Mission San Francisco de Asís would not be closed and the San Rafael asistencia had already been designated as a full mission (Mission San Rafael Arcángel).

Beginning in October 1823 Fr. Altimira had the opportunity to build his new mission at the location he chose, but since Mission San Francisco de Asís would remain open this Mission needed a different patron saint. Altimira chose San Francisco Solano, a 17th-century Franciscan missionary to South America. His company of soldiers and neophytes set about building all the facilities needed in a California mission. His annual report for 1823 listed no baptisms, one marriage, one funeral, a population of 482 Indians – all transferred from other missions – and 1341 animals. The work had started too late in the year for anything to be planted and harvested.

On April 4, 1824, Passion Sunday, Father Altimira proudly dedicated his church. It was a crude, temporary structure but it symbolized development at the Mission. The church was built of whitewashed boards but was well furnished and decorated. Many of the articles were gifts from the Russians at Fort Ross. It also held a canvas painting of San Francisco Solano which had been donated by the Father-President. Furthermore, the Mission had been promised a relic of the patron saint to put in the altar.

The Mission continued to develop until an argument arose about the sharing of the bountiful 1826 harvest. Indians not living at the Mission were unhappy with the amount allocated for their work. They burned some of the wooden buildings in protest. Fr. Altimira with a few faithful neophytes fled to Mission San Rafael Arcángel.

Fr. Buenaventura Fortuni, an aging Spanish Franciscan who had been working at Mission San José, was assigned to replace Altimira. Fr. Fortuni quickly reestablished order and morale and the work of building the mission restarted. He arranged the main buildings to form a large, square enclosure.

In 1830 Fr. Fortuni, having labored alone at this mission for 3 1/2 years, felt the need to transfer to another mission where the work load could be shared. He was 58 years old when he was replaced by Fr. José Gutiérrez, a Franciscan friar from South America. The Mexican government had in 1826 required that all the Spanish friars who would not pledge loyalty to Mexico leave. Fr. Fortuni had been exempted from this rule but all new churchmen would be required to take the pledge.

Fr. Gutierrez continued to build and increased the agricultural effort. By 1832 the mission had 27 rooms in the convento or priest’s quarters, with a great adobe church at the east end, and a wooden storehouse at the west end. Completing this enclosure were workshops where the Indians were taught to be craftsmen and created the items needed to help the mission be self-sufficient. Along the back of the courtyard were the living quarters and workrooms for the young Indian girls. In addition to the quadrangle, there were orchards, gardens, vineyards, fields of grain, a gristmill, houses for the soldiers and Indian families, a jail, a cemetery, and an infirmary.

The most successful year of this mission’s short life span – 11 years – was 1832. In his annual report for that year, Fr. Gutierrez recorded the following: 127 baptisms, 34 marriages, and 70 deaths. A total of 996 neophytes. The livestock inventory included 6,000 sheep and goats, 900 horses, 13 mules, 50 pigs and 3,500 head of cattle. In 1832 the mission produced 800 fanegas of wheat, 1025 fanegas of barley, 52 fanegas of peas, 300 fanegas of corn, 32 fanegas of beans, and 2 fanegas of garbanzos.

In 1833 the Mexican Congress decided to close all of the missions in Alta California with the passage of the Mexican secularization act of 1833. Governor Figueroa issued a regulation on August 9, 1834, outlining the requirements for the distribution of property to each mission’s neophytes. Among the provisions were that each head of a family and to all over 20 years old, will be given from the Mission lands a lot not over 400 nor less than 100 varas square (28 to 7 acres). Plus one-half of the livestock and half or less of the existing chattels, tools, and seed.

Mission San Francisco Solano officially ceased to exist on November 3, 1834, when it was designated a First Class Parish. The Spanish missionaries were to be replaced by parish priests – the first was Fr. Lorenzo Quijas who had earlier been assigned to Sonoma and San Rafael.

Lieutenant Mariano Vallejo, Commandant of the Presidio of San Francisco, was named administrator to oversee the closing of the Mission under the Reglamento. Fr. Quijas moved back to San Rafael in July 1835, after many disputes with Guadalupe Antonio Ortega, Vallejo’s majordomo to whom he had delegated the work of secularization. Ortega was uneducated, coarse and licentious. Right after returning to San Rafael, Padre Quijas wrote a letter to Commissary Perfect Garcia Diego, his superior, complaining about the situation in Sonoma and specifically the abominable deeds of Ortega. Quijas then gives names of witnesses to be called against Ortega. Upon receipt of the letter, Fr. Diego forwarded it to Governor José Figueroa demanding some action against Ortega. The Governor was critically ill and died at the end of the following month. No action was taken. It wasn’t until the summer of 1837, because of new scandals and unsatisfactory accounts, that Ortega was removed.

After Fr. Quijas left, the neophyte population decreased rapidly, most returning to their home villages – taking their movable property with them – or moving to ranchos to work, or staying in Sonoma as servants. Some former Mission Indians reportedly received their allotted land and cattle from the Mission. In August 1839, the government sent William Edward Petty Hartnell as Visitador General de Misiones to check compliance with the Reglamento but Vallejo avoided responding, claiming he did not have time because of military affairs. No effective review of the secularization of the Sonoma mission was ever completed.

The mission buildings rapidly fell into disrepair. The town of Sonoma was growing and building materials were in great demand. Roof tiles, timbers, and adobe bricks were salvaged from the mission buildings. After the settlers had cannibalized the old buildings, nature began recycling the remnants.

In 1841, Mariano Vallejo ordered a small adobe chapel to be built on the location of the first wooden mission chapel. It became the church of the parish and replaced the large mission church which was rapidly deteriorating. It stood on the west end of the Convento and so is often thought to be the church of the old mission.

During 1863 President Abraham Lincoln transferred ownership of all the mission churches in California to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1881, the Sonoma church property was sold to a local businessman and a new parish church was built across town. At one time, the old adobe chapel was used as a warehouse. The Convento may have been used as a winery.

In 1903, the two remaining mission buildings were purchased by California Historic Landmarks League, and became part of the California Park System in 1906. By 1913, both had been reconstructed. After the 1940’s, the former church and Convento were remodeled along more authentic lines suited to exhibits devoted exclusively to mission history.

Dedicated in 1999, the Sonoma Mission Indian Memorial honors the more than 800 native people, including over 200 children who died while living and working at the Mission between 1824 and 1839. Their Christian names, as recorded by the priests in the Mission’s records, are inscribed on this granite memorial. European diseases such as measles and smallpox, for which Native Americans had no inherited resistance, together with the overcrowded and unhealthful living conditions at all California missions – especially for women and children – contributed to the high death rate.

In closing, I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip along the King’s Highway as much as I enjoyed writing/edit it.

Attribution Links:

[1] Map Of The Spanish Missions Along The Kings Highway In California
[2] Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá
[3] Mission San Luis Rey de Francia
[4] Mission San Juan Capistrano
[5] Mission San Gabriel Arcángel
[6] Mission San Fernando Rey de España
[7] Mission Basilica San Buenaventura
[8] Mission Santa Barbara
[9] Mission Santa Inés (Santa Ynez)
[10] Mission La Purísima Concepción
[11] Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
[12] Mission San Miguel Arcángel
[13] Mission San Antonio de Padua
[14] Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
[15] Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Río Carmelo
[16] Mission San Juan Bautista
[17] Mission Santa Cruz – La Misión de la Exaltación de la Santa Cruz
[18] Mission Santa Clara de Asís
[19] Mission San José
[20] Mission San Francisco de Asís
[21] Mission San Rafael Arcángel
[22] Mission San Francisco Solano

Author: David

As a retired traveler, IT systems engineer by trade, Electronics engineer by hobby. I spend my free time writing about subjects giving the reader events in history to ponder, as well as current events.

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