Mission San Diego
San Diego de Alcalá
San Diego de Alcalá was the first mission in Alta California and is known as the “Mother of the Missions.” It was named in honor of Saint Didactus and was founded July 16, 1769, by Father Junípero Serra. This mission’s first location was on Presidio Hill in San Diego. They moved it to its present site in 1774 but it was burned by natives a year later. The mission was rebuilt in 1776 but was again damaged, by an earthquake, in 1801. Between 1850 and 1862 the U.S. Army occupied the mission. They built a second story for their quarters and stabled their horses in the nave.
San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
The second mission was founded June 3, 1770 by Father Serra at Monterey Presidio but moved to Carmel-by-the-Sea a year later. The mission is named for Saint Charles Borromeo. The present building began in 1793, was completed four years later and restored three times; 1884, 1924 and 1936. In the cemetery alongside the church is the tombstone of “Old Gabriel,” a mission Indian. According to the inscription on the tombstone he was baptized by Father Serra and lived to the age of 151. Father Serra died at the Mission Carmel on August 28, 1784, at age 70.
San Antonio de Padua is the third mission and was founded by Father Serra on July 14, 1771 in Valle de los Robles. The mission is named for Saint Anthony. In 1773, the mission was moved to a site further north. The adobe church was completed in 1782 and the present building began in 1810 and completed in 1813. It was abandoned between 1882 and 1928. It was selected, in 1903, by the California Historic Landmarks League as one of their first restoration projects. In 1948, further restoration began when the mission received a grant for restoration. San Antonio de Padua is now an accurate replica of the original mission as it stood in 1813.
Mission San Gabriel
San Gabriel Arcángel
Father Pedro Cambón and Father Angel Somera founded the fourth mission San Gabriel Arcángel, September 8, 1771. The mission is named after Saint Gabriel, the angel that was sent to Mary at Nazareth to tell her of her destiny. It was first situated in Montebello but moved five miles to its present site in 1775. Building of the current church began in 1791 and was completed in 1805. In 1812 it was damaged by an earthquake and wasn’t repaired until 1828 and was damaged again by earthquakes in 1987 and 1994. Mission San Gabriel was once California’s largest producing winery.
The fifth mission, situated in San Luis Obispo, was founded in September 1, 1772, by Father Serra and is named for Saint Luis, Bishop of Toulouse. It is located near the Valley of Bears which got its name from the many bears that inhabited the area. The Spanish hunted the bears and shared the meat with nearby missions as well as with the Native Americans who later showed their appreciation when Father Serra founded the mission. The present building was built between 1793 and 1794 and was restored in 1933.
The sixth mission was founded by Father Francisco Palóu, June 26, 1776, in Yerba Buena, San Francisco and is named for Saint Francis of Assisi. The inclement weather kept the Native Americans away and it wasn’t until a year later that the first native was baptized. The mission church, dedicated in 1791, was built so well that it was unharmed during the great earthquake and fire of 1906 and is now the oldest building in San Francisco.
Mission San Juan Capistrano is the seventh in California’s chain of missions and was founded by Father Fermín Lasuén, October 30, 1775 and is called the “Jewel of the Missions,” famous for its beautiful gardens. It is named for Saint John. Eight days after the founding, news came from San Diego that Indians had attacked the San Diego mission, Father Lasuén abandoned the mission and hurried back to San Diego. On November 1, 1776, Father Junípero Serra re-dedicated the mission. The Great Stone Church, which was the largest of the mission churches, began in 1797 and took nine years to build. It only stood for six years until it was destroyed in the 1812 earthquake. In 1895, restoration attempts were successful and further restoration began in 1987 after the Whittier earthquake. The “Serra Chapel” is the oldest church in California.
Mission Santa Clara
Santa Clara de Asís
Santa Clara de Asís is the eighth mission and was founded by Father Serra, January 12, 1777, in Santa Clara and is named for Saint Claire of Assisi, the first mission named for a woman. In 1784, after a series of disasterous floods, the mission was moved to higher ground. The new mission served the fathers until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 1818. The present structure is a faithful replica of the church built in 1825. It burned in 1926 and was replced in 1929. After some of the mission lands were returned to the church the Franciscans turned them over to the Jesuit Order to be used as the site for the first college in California. Classes at what is now the University of Santa Clara began in 1851.
On Easter Sunday, March 31, 1782, Father Serra raised a cross and celebrated Mass to found his ninth and final mission, this one named for Saint Bonaventure. The mission’s first church building was destroyed by fire; the second was abandoned during construction because the door gave way. Building of the present church began in 1792 but wasn’t completed until 1809. It was almost completely destroyed by earthquakes and tidal waves in 1812 but was rebuilt in 1815. Another earthquake damaged the church in 1925 but the damage was repaired in 1950.
Named for Saint Barbara, Santa Barbara is the tenth mission and the first founded by Father Fermín Lasuén, Father Serra’s successor as President of the California missions, in December 4, 1786. Three adobe churches were built, but the third church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. The present church was built in 1815 and completed in 1820. The church was damaged again by an earthquake in 1925. Restoration work was completed in 1927 and the towers reinforced in 1953. Santa Barbara is the only mission in the California chain remaining under control of the Franciscans without interruption from the day of its founding until the present time.
Mission La Purísima
La Purísima Concepción
La Purísima Concepción, named to honor “The immaculate Conception of Mary the Most Pure” and the eleventh mission was founded by Father Fermín Lasuén, December 8, 1787, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Located in Lompoc, the large church’s construction was completed in 1802. La Purísima Concepción was destroyed by the 1812 earthquake. After the earthquake, the padres moved the mission five miles east. The new location had several advantages; better water supply, better climate, and closer and safer access to El Camino Real, California’s main travel route. In 1934, 507 acres were acquired by Santa Barbara county and U.S. Park Services and restoration began.
The twelfth mission, named for the Sacred Cross was founded by Father Lasuén in August 28, 1791. The first permanent church was completed in 1794. The church received many gifts and much help from the other missions. It was damaged by earthquakes in 1840 and 1857 and torn down in 1858. It was replaced in 1889 with a white painted brick church for use by the town. The present mission church is a replica, approximately one-third scale, and was built near the original site in 1931. The design was conceived from a study of aged drawings and paintings of the mission.
Mission Soledad, named for Our Lady of Solitude, was founded by Father Lasuén, October 9, 1791, in the Salinas Valley near Soledad. It became the thirteenth of Alta California’s missions. The first adobe church was built six years later in 1797. Because of its proximity to the Salinas River, the church was twice destroyed by overflowing riverbanks and in 1831 the building collapsed as a consequence of severe winter weather. The weather made it difficult to assign padres to this mission; many complained of rheumatism and poor health. During this mission’s existence, almost thirty different padres were assigned here. After secularization the mission was abandoned and left to decay for over 100 years. Finally, in 1954 the mission was restored.
Six years after the founding of the thirteenth mission in Soledad Father Lasuén was granted permission to establish an additional five missions. Mission San Jose was the first of these. Father Lasuén’s plan was to locate the missions within one day’s travel of another for those traveling along the El Camino Real. Founded June 11, 1797, in Fremont and named for Saint Joseph, the first church was completed the same year. The second church was under construction in 1805 and dedicated in 1809. It was the second largest church in the chain of missions. The church was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1869 and a new wooden gothic-style church was constructed on the same site. This church was sold and relocated to Burlingame in 1982. The construction of the present church was started the same year and completed in 1985. The interior is decorated as it was in the 1830s.
San Juan Bautista is the fifteenth mission, honoring Saint John the Baptist and was founded by Father Lasuén, June 24, 1797. In 1803 plans for a larger church began. By its completion date in 1812, it was the largest in the state and the only structure of its kind ever built by the Franciscans in California. The 1906 earthquake did extensive damage to the mission church. Later all the buildings were reinforced with steel and concrete. In 1949, the Hearst Foundation financed restoration to its original form.
The sixteenth mission, San Miguel Arcángel, was founded by Father Lasuén, July 25, 1797, named after Saint Michael, the captain of the armies of God. San Miguel was intended to fill in the space between Mission San Luis Obispo and Mission San Antonio. The present church building began in 1816 and was finished in 1818. Many of the Native Americans welcomed the mission because they already knew about activities from other missions.
In the wake of the Mexican Government’s decree of secularization in 1833, the Mission was taken over by the civil government in 1836, though the last Franciscan friar stayed on there until his death in 1841. In 1846 Governor Pio Pico sold the Mission for $600 for use as a store. The Franciscan were allowed to return in 1928 and began restoring the entire Mission complex.
Mission San Fernando, the seventeenth mission, was founded September 8th, 1797, by Father Lasuén in San Fernando Valley and named for Saint Ferdinand, King of Spain (1217-1252). The first church building was completed two months later but was replaced in 1800 and again in 1806. Because of its location, its closeness to Los Angeles, the mission became a very popular place to visit for travelers. The mission was damaged by an earthquake in 1812 and then repaired and probably would have stood for a very long time had it not been for the damage caused by gold prospectors who dug up the church floor when gold was discovered nearby. The church was restored in 1879, 1912, 1916 and in the 1930s. The church was damaged by an earthquake in 1971 and rebuilt and re-dedicated three years later. Twenty years later, in 1994, the church was damaged again by an earthquake.
San Luis Rey de Francia nicknamed “King of the Missions” became the eighteenth of the missions and the largest and most populous of all. It was founded by Father Lasuén June 13, 1798, the ninth and last mission founded before his death in 1803. Named for Louis IX, King of France (1215-1270), the present church was designed by Father Antonio Peyri. Building began in 1811 and was completed and dedicated in 1815. Mission San Luis Rey also had the largest herd of livestock of any of the missions. In addition to the greater than 50,000 cattle and sheep, they had 1,300 goats, 300 pigs, and almost 2,000 horses. The Franciscans left the mission in 1846 but returned in 1892 and began the restoration.
The nineteenth California mission, named for Saint Agnes, Santa Inés is probably the prettiest of all the missions. It is called “Hidden Gem of the Missions.” Father Estaban Tápis founded this last mission in southern California September 17, 1804, in Solvang. The building began the same year but was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1812. Construction continued immediately and finally in 1817 the mission was completed. The mission was a temporary place for California’s first institution for higher education, the College of our Lady of Refuge, opened at the mission in 1844.
San Rafael Arcángel, named for Saint Raphael the Archangel, patron Saint of good health, is the twentieth mission in California’s chain of missions. It was founded in San Rafael, December 14, 1817, by Father Vicente Francisco de Sarría. Originally it was an asistencia (sub-mission) of Mission Dolores. Due to the damp climate around Mission Dolores the padres decided to send the sick neophytes (Christianized Native Americans) to the warmer climate around San Rafael. The climate seemed to improve their health. Other missions also started to send their sick to San Rafael. On October 19, 1822, San Rafael was given full mission status, the only asistencia that has been upgraded to full mission status. The church was abandoned and razed in 1870. The present church was built in 1949 and is a replica of the old church.
San Francisco Solano was the last and northernmost mission in California’s chain of missions and is named for St. Francis Solano, missionary to the Peruvian Indians. It was founded without the prior approval of the Church by Father José Altimíra, July 4, 1823, in Sonoma. The government allowed Father Altimíra to continue with his establishments because they thought it would stop the Russians advancing from the north. It was also the only mission founded after Mexico’s independence from Spain. Building began in 1823. The church was attacked by Native Americans in 1826 after Altimíra’s constant beatings and imprisonment. Altimíra fled to Mission San Rafael and eventually retuned to Spain. The present chapel was built in 1840 by General Vallejo. The Historic Landmarks League purchased the mission property in 1903, and with state funds, restored the mission. When complete, in 1926, it was turned over to the state. It is now the Sonoma Mission State Historic Park.