The 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 21 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 Father Antonio Cruzado, who hailed from Córdoba, Spain. Cruzado gave the building its strong Moorish architectural influence. The capped buttresses and the tall, narrow windows are unique among the missions of the California chain.
The mission was founded on September 8, 1771 by fathers Pedro Cambon and Angel Somera. The planned site for the Mission was along the banks of the Río de los Temblores (the River of the Earthquakes—the Santa Ana River). The priests chose an alternate site on a fertile plain located directly alongside the Rio Hondo in the Whittier Narrows. The site of the Misión Vieja (or "Old Mission") is located near the intersection of San Gabriel Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue in Montebello, California (known to the natives as Shevaanga). In 1776, a flash flood destroyed much of the crops and ruined the Mission complex, which was subsequently relocated five miles closer to the mountains in present-day San Gabriel (the native settlement of 'Iisanchanga). The Mission is the base from which the pueblo that became the City of Los Angeles, California was sent. On December 9, 1812 (the "Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin"), a series of massive earthquakes shook Southern California. The 1812 Wrightwood Earthquake caused the three-bell campanario, located adjacent to the chapel's east façade, to collapse. A larger, six-bell structure was subsequently constructed at the far end of the capilla. While no pictorial record exists to document what the original structure looked like, architectural historian Rexford Newcomb deduced the design and published a depiction in his 1916 work The Franciscan Mission Architecture of Alta California.
Legend has it that the founding expedition was confronted by a large group of native Tongva peoples whose intention was to drive the strangers away. One of the padres laid a painting of "Our Lady of Sorrows" on the ground for all to see, whereupon the natives (known to the settlers as the Gabrieliños) immediately made peace with the missionaries, so moved were they by the painting's beauty. Today the 300-year-old work hangs in the Mission's reredos (sanctuary).
A large stone cross stands in the center of the campo santo (cemetery), 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 fathers who died during their time of service, as well as the remains of Reverend Raymond Catalan, C.M.F., who undertook the restoration of the Mission's gardens. Entombed at the foot of the altar are the remains of eight Franciscan priests (listed in order of interment): Father Miguel Sánchez, Father Antonio Cruzado, Father Francisco Dumetz, Father Roman Ulibarri, Father Joaquin P. Nuez, Father Gerónimo Boscana, Father José Bernardo Sánchez, and Father Blas Ordaz. Buried among the padres 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.
Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain. In its heyday it 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.
- But the bells were ringing, and the church was in use.
The Mission's chapel functioned as a parish church for the City of San Gabriel from 1862 until 1908, when the Claretian Missionary Fathers came to San Gabriel and began the job of rebuilding and restoring the Mission. On October 1, 1987 the Whittier Narrows Earthquake damaged the property. A significant portion of the original complex has since been restored.
Other historic designations
- California Historical Landmark #161 — site of "Mission Vieja"
- Los Angeles Conservancy Preservation Award (1994) — "Seismic retrofit and restoration of The oldest building in Los Angeles County"
- Daughters of the American Revolution (1968) — "The Oldest Building in Southern California of Brick, Stone and Mortar"
The goal of the missions was to become self-sufficient in relatively short order. Farming was the most important industry of any mission. Prior to the missions, the American Indians had developed a complex, self-sufficient culture. Because it was different from that of the missionaries, they believed the native Indians were inferior. The mission priests established was they thought of as a manual training school: to teach the Indians their style of agriculture, the mechanical arts, and the raising and care of livestock. The missions, by the labor of the Indians, produced everything they used and consumed. After 1811 the mission Indians could be said to sustain the entire military and civil government of California.
Bells were important to daily life at any mission. They were rung to mark mealtimes, to call the Mission residents to work and to religious services, to mark births and funerals, to signal the approach of a ship or returning missionary, and at other times; novices were instructed in the intricate rituals associated with the ringing of the mission bells.
Today visitors can tour the church, museum and grounds. The adobe museum building was built in 1812 and was originally used for sleeping quarters and book storage. Exhibits include mission relics, books and religious artifacts. The grounds feature operations from the original mission complex, including indoor and outdoor kitchens, winery, water cisterns, soap and candle vats, tanning vats for preparing cattle hides, and a cemetery. There is also a gift shop.
Matrimonial Investigation Records of the San Gabriel Mission
As part of the William McPherson Collection in the Special Collections at Claremont Colleges’ Honnold/Mudd Library, the Matrimonial Investigation Records of the San Gabriel Mission are a valuable resource for research on the pre-statehood activities of the Mission. William McPherson was a rancher, scholar, and collector from Orange County, California who donated his extensive collection of mission documents, primarily from the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, to Special Collections in 1964. The matrimonial records span 1788-1861 and are notarized interviews with couples wanting to marry in the Roman Catholic Church, performed to establish the couples’ freedom to marry.<ref name="CCDL" /> The collection includes 165 investigations, with 173 men and 170 women.<ref name="CCDL" /> Because the donated records are fragile, they are no longer available to be photocopied. The California Digital Library has an online guide available to search the collection.
- Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles Asistencia
- El Molino Viejo
- San Bernardino Asistencia
- USNS Mission San Gabriel (AO-124) — a Mission Buenaventura Class fleet oiler built during World War II
- Eulalia Perez de Guillén Mariné
- Hugo Reid
- San Gabriel Mission High School
- San Gabriel Mission Parish
- Elevation and Site Layout sketches of the Mission proper
- Listing, drawings, and photographs at the Historic American Buildings Survey
- Official website of the Gabrieleno/Tongva Tribal Council of San Gabriel
- San Gabriel Mission High
- Details of the Mission and photos
- Mission's Fan Page on Facebook
- Matrimonial Investigation Records of the San Gabriel Mission at Claremont Colleges Digital Library