U. S. Mission Trail / The Mission Trail Today - The Spanish Missions in California
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#16, San Miguel Arcángel

Founded July 25, 1797
by Father Fermin Lasuen.
San Miguel near Paso Robles.

Personal Observations

Mission San Miguel Arcángel is the closest mission to Highway 101, the modern approximation of the original El Camino Real. Ironically, the next mission north in the chain, San Antonio de Padua, is the most isolated. Easily visible from the highway, my father sped past it many times refusing to stop. My wife and I had been planning for several months to drive from Los Angeles to Morgan Hill (near San Jose) on Christmas day, 2003, to visit her parents. Along the way, we had planned to stop at Mission San Miguel Arcángel for the 9:00 am Christmas mass, and also stop at Mission San Antonio de Padua and Mission Nuestra Sonora de la Soledad. Only three days, almost to the hour, before our planned visit to Mission San Miguel, on December 22, 2003, a 6.5 earthquake struck the area and seriously damaged the mission. When we arrived Christmas morning, all we could do was walk around the mission in a light rain, photographing the mission from the outside as my wife held a large umbrella over my camera. We stopped again on the return drive and while it had stopped raining, the mission was still closed with chain link fence and yellow hazzard tape blocking every entrance. The church reopened in the fall of 2009 and I joined in the Easter celebration in April 2010, the first Easter with a Mass held at the Mission in seven years. Most of the mission is now open including the Church, but other areas still need restoration and donations. We happily photographed the reopened Church that before the earthquake had been considered the best preserved mission.
Photo-Art
Mission Art & Photo-Art

History

In the summer of 1795, Father Sitjar from Mission San Antonio de Padua conducted several searches of the area between San Luis Obispo and San Antonio, seeking a sutable location for a new Mission. Two years later, Fermin Francisco de Lasuen took possession of the land for Viceroy Branciforte and founded Mission San Miguel Arcángel on July 25, 1797. The Mission was named for Saint Michael Arcangel, Captain of the Armies of God, "Most Glorious Prince of the Celestial Militia," or "Most Glorious Prince of the Celestial Militia, Archangel Saint Michael," there are seveal similar translations by different people. This was his third of four mission founding that summer, the other three being San Jose (June 11), San Juan Bautista (June 24) and San Fernando (September 8). The site was chosen as a half way station between San Luis Obispo and San Antonio, and also to be next to a large Salinan Village known as Cholam or Cholami or Sagshpileel (references vary). With the establishment of Mission San Miguel, the northern half of the mission chain was complete from Mission San Luis Obispo to Mission San Francisco de Asis. The mission is near the juncture of the Salinas and Nacimiento Rivers with trees for building nearby. The climate was hot and reports differ, some say good soil, some say bad. Regardless, the Mission was quite successful and still lies in a valley surrounded by agriculture. The first winery is believed to have started here and today there is a growing wine industry in the valley around the mission.

Father Buenaventura Sitjar was the first administrator at Mission San Miguel. He had ministered to the Salinan people for twenty-five years at Mission San Antonio and was fluent in the Salinan language and had a good relationship with the Salinan people. Again reports vary saying 15 or 25 Indian children were baptized at the founding of the mission. Once the Fathers had blessed the site, they and the soldiers started constructing a small building in which to hold Mass. Temporary buildings of wood poles and brush would quickly be replaced by buildings of adobe or stone and lumber. By the end of the first year, a 71-foot-long brush fence, an adobe chapel and a Convento had been built. Work shops soon followed and by 1800 there were five more adobe structures. A Monjerio was built for unmarried girls and women, which was locked at night. Over one thousand neophytes were living and working at the Mission by 1806. The Salinan tended the fields and vineyards and hearded livestock at the Mission. Some learned trades such as carpentry, masonry, blacksmithing, weaving, soap and candle making, leather working, and cooking. They learned to fire bricks. By 1805, forty-seven houses had been built for the neophytes.

After a few years the Mission was self-sufficient and raised enough food, cattle, and other animals to feed everyone. The neophytes learned leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil. The work of the mission became a routine. Bells were rung to signal dinner (lunch) at noon and the end of the work day. The neophytes would pursue traditional tasks until the women went to bed at 8:00 pm and the men at 9:00 pm. When married men were away for extended periods, the married women under a certain age were housed in the same dormitory as the unmarried girls and locked for the night.

In 1806, the thatched roofed church and most of the buildings were lost to fire. Stores of wool, cloth, leather goods, and over 6,000 bushels of grain were also destroyed. The fathers and neophytes labored for ten years making adobe blocks and tiles in preparation to build a new church, as many as 36,000 tiles may have been made between 1808 and 1809. Padre Marcelino Cipres (1769-1810) died at the Mission on January 31, 1810 and was buried in the sanctuary of the Church. At the time of his death, he was assisted by Fathers Juan Cabot, Pedro Cabot and Juan Martin. Padre Juan Cabot served San Miguel from October 1, 1807 until March 12, 1819 as assistant to Padre Juan Martin, and from November 7,1824 until November 25, 1834 to run the Mission after the death of Father Juan Martin in 1824. Padre Juan Martin (1770 -1824) served at the Mission from December 3, 1797 until August 17, 1824. He was responsible for building most of the Mission and he would supervise the construction of the new church (begun in 1816) and is credited with much of the success of the mission. The stone foundation of the church was completed in 1816 and by 1818 the new church was ready for roofing. The heavy timber for the rafters and ceiling beams were brought in from the mountains forty miles away. The roof was covered with the tiles that had been prepared in the preceding years. A colonnade extends south from the church containing twelve arches of different sizes and shapes and it is considered unique among the California missions. The main structure was completed in 1820. It was 144 feet long, 27 feet wide, and 40 feet tall with six foot think walls at the base and was large enough to hold 1,000 worshipers. Padre Martin died on August 29, 1824. The church still had no bell tower, this would be added later. The new church also lacked decoration but this changed with the arrival of Esteban Munras from San Carlos, near Monterey.

Estevan Carlos Munras is credited for instructing some of the neophytes in the art of fresco painting. Although now showing signs of age and damage, these beautiful and intricate wall decorations have survived since 1821. There was fear that the earthquake of 2003 would damage the art, but the retrofitted church shows few signs of damage to these wonderful examples of Mission era art. This art is rare in the Mission system today and Mission San Miguel is famous for these surviving examples of Neoclassical decor.

Mission San Miguel did not have a traditional bell tower although one exists now on the north side. Bells at the time were typically hung from a wooden beam in one of the archways. The current bells were cast in Mexico City in 1800.

The Yokuts, another tribe in the area, resisted living under Mission rules and attacked in 1818, but were driven back by Spanish soldiers. Fr. Juan Cabot sent a number of expeditions into the central valley with hopes of establishing a mission there, but the efforts found the same hostility as other padres had and the idea was abandoned. After 1820, increasing conflict between the missions and civil authorities put an end to the attempts to expand the mission system.

Mission San Miguel Arcangel was one of the most prosperous of the missions. The mission produced crops of wheat and corn, planted vineyards, and raised cattle and sheep.

The Mission property extended 18 miles north and south from the main buildings, 66 miles east, and to the Pacific Ocean 35 miles west. Mission San Miguel had six ranchos: Rancho Santa Ysabel with a vineyard, Rancha Santa Rosa, Rancho el Paso de Robles which grew wheat, Rancho del Aguaje, Rancho de la Asunción for cattle and horses, and Rancho la Playa. Each Ranchos was near a native village which helped the Mission attract more converts. An account by Fr. Cabot's states: "From the mission to the beach the land consists almost entirely of mountain ridges... for this reason it is not occupied until it reaches the coast where the mission has a house of adobe ... eight hundred cattle, some tame horses and breeding mares are kept at said rancho, which is called San Simeon. In the direction toward the south all land is occupied, for the mission there maintains all its sheep, besides horses for the guards. There it has Rancho de Santa Isabel, where there is a small vineyard. Other ranchos of the mission in that direction are San Antonio, where barley is planted; Rancho del Paso de Robles, where wheat is sown; and the Rancho de la Asunción." Rancho de la Asunció was seven leagues to the south where it bordered Mission San Luis Obispo and a house was constructed in 1812. Rancho del Aguag, "Ranch of the Wells," was the site for an adobe house, with two rooms and a small parlor, built in 1815 for the vineyardist. The vineyard was about three miles from the Mission and was known as "La Mayor."

Nine miles south of the Mission, Padre Cabot had a shelter constructed at the hot springs during his second period of service (November 7, 1824 to November 25, 1834). Padre Cabot noted that bathing in the hot sulfur springs alleviate the pain of Rheumatoid arthritis which was common among the people the Salinas Valley as it came out of a 500 year cold and very moist climate period.
In 1834 the Missions were secularized, which meant that the lands were taken from the Missions and distributed to Mexican citizens who were helpful during the war for independence. Three years earlier, the Neophyte had been told that they could leave, but they stayed. Secularization was intended to free the neophytes of Mission control, but they usually saw their societies deteriorate without the Mission system that they had been trained for and having lost their original skills and societal organizations. Their tribal lands had been taken over by ranchers and they often had no where to go. San Miguel Mission was the last to be secularized, Ignacio Coronel assumed jurisdiction over San Miguel's mission property on July 14, 1836. Within three years, many of the Neophytes had left, only 30 remained by 1841. The Salinan people left Mission San Miguel to return to their ancestral homelands throughout the Central Coast. By 1839, most of the Neophytes had left and Father Moreno left because the buildings had deteriorated.

Petronillo Rios and William Reed purchased the land and buildings for $600 and the Reed family occupied the former Mission buildings. Reed left in 1848 seeking gold and later 5 runaway sailors robbed and murdered 11 Reed family members and household staff in an effort to find Reed's gold. This resulted in the conversion of the long monastery building into a hotel, saloon, dance hall, and retail shops. The former Mission became a stopping place for miners traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco along El Camino Real.

The Mission was returned to the Catholic Church by President Buchanan in 1859 and the Catholic church returned to the Mission in 1878 with Father Philip Farrelly as the first pastor and the mission parish was established. The Mission buildings were gradually restored.

Mission San Miguel was returned to the Franciscan Padres in 1928. The Franciscans began an extensive renovation and preservation effort and today the Mission functions as a parish church, novitiate, and retreat house.

Eventually a bell tower was constructed in the mid 1930 inside the mission cemetery by Jess Crettoll. The largest of the three bells weights 2,000 pounds and was recast in 1888 from six cracked and broken bells from other missions. A smaller bell tower at the south end of the current Mission complex (facing the south exit from Highway 101) is decorative and the bell is cast concrete in 1950s by Jesse Crettol, Jess Crettol's oldest son.

The former monastery building is now a museum.

A little after 11 o'clock in the morning of December 22, 2003, a 6.5 earthquake struck the Central Coast of California. This was the most powerful earthquake in the region in over fifty years and the epicenter was located just 35 miles from Mission San Miguel. The church received major damage and remained closed until fall of 2009. Other buildings received minor damage and most reopened within a year or two. Today the church has reopened and other building are being restored. Prior to the earthquake, the wall decorations had little or no restoration treatment or modification and care was taken after the earthquake to restore the building and preserve the art.

Mission San Miguel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service, US Department of the Interior in 2006. Also in 2006, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named Mission San Miguel as one of "America's Eleven Most Endangered Places."

Today the mission is an active parish, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey.

Address and Directions

775 Mission Street
San Miguel, CA 93451-0069
Telephone (805) 467-3256

From Highway 101 north: Exit Highway 101 at San Miguel and slowly drive through town.
From Highway 101 south: Exit Highway 101 at San Miguel and the Mission is a short distance on the left.

Photography Gallery






Cemetery beside church. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Cemetery beside church. Photo date: 12-25-03.



Bell tower. Photo date: 12-27-03.

A closer view of the bell tower sign. Photo date: 12-25-03.

The bell tower and sign in 2009.

The sign near the highway exit on a rainy Christmas morning. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Another angle on the bell tower sign. Photo date: 12-25-03.
This free-standing bell tower is more sign than functional.

At the south end as you exit Highway 101 going north.
The damaged church as it was September 1, 2007.
See Earthquake.
The damaged church as it was September 1, 2007.

Donation Meter on September 1, 2007. The Mission needs YOUR help.

Gate. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Gate on September 1, 2007.

Main visitor gate.

Smaller gate.

Arch in forecourt. Photo date: 12-27-03.

Fountain. Photo date: 12-27-03.

Wall. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Cactus in forecourt. Photo date: 12-27-03.

This small canon protects the forecourt.
These ovens were common to most Spanish adobes in California.
Wooden cart in forecourt.

Mill.

Press.
Fountain in forecourt.

Gate.

Forecourt.

Forecourt.

Forecourt.

Door.

Door.

Doors.
Inner courtyard of the quadrangle.
Inner courtyard of the quadrangle.
This passage connects the inner courtyard of the quadrangle and the front courtyard.
Inner courtyard of the quadrangle.

Legend has it that a cross was carved into a tree and was later grown over. When the tree fell, the cross was found inside.

Courtyard in the quadrangle.
Inner courtyard of the quadrangle.

Oven.

Cooking area.

Sleeping area.

Built-in shelves.
Sleeping area.

Tack.


Spinning wheel and loom.

Bed.

Light fixture.


Ceiling beams.
Photo date: 12-25-03.Cactus behind west side of quadrangle. Photo date: 12-25-03.
Photo date: 12-25-03.Cactus behind west side of quadrangle. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Outside of the west wing of the quadrangle.
Wall around south yard. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Wall around south yard. Photo date: 12-27-03.

This small piece of wall in a field across the highway and railroad from the Mission was once a wall that ran back to the mission behind the photographer.

Paella Dinner held July 26, 2009.

1945 1945
These photographs of Mission San Miguel were taken about 1945 by Irma Larson.

Earthquake

On the morning of December 22, 2003, about 10:00 am, an earthquake originating about 30 miles west of Mission San Miguel Arcángel struck the area and damaged the mission. Within a few weeks, most of the museum complex reopened to the public. The church will remain closed until a seismic retrofit can be performed. We had the bad luck to have planned a visit only three days after the quake and again two days later on our return trip, while the entire site was still closed. We visited the open portion of the mission a few months later and returned again several times and hope to return when the church is repaired and reopens.

Earthquakes are a part of the mission story. Few missions do not have a story to tell of damage from earthquakes. The stone church at Mission San Juan Capistrano was never rebuilt. I personally have lived through two earthquakes that damaged Mission San Fernando. With your contributions, Mission San Miguel Arcángel will rebuild and the church, described as the best preserved of the missions, will reopen.

It has been several years since the earthquake but finally restoration has begun. The Missions is hoping to celebrate Christmas Mass in the Mission this year (2009). Although restoration has begun, the Missions still needs contributions to complete the process and pay the bills.

Contributions to the rebuilding can be made to:

Old Mission San Miguel Parish
775 Mission Street
P.O. Box 69
San Miguel, CA 93451-0069


Donation Meter on September 1, 2007.

Donation Meter on July 26, 2009.


This section shot Christmas Day in 2003, just three days after the earthquake.

Gate to forecourt. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Front of church. Photo date: 12-25-03.

Front of church. Photo date: 12-25-03.
Closeup of cracks on front of church. Photo date: 12-27-03.

Gate to cemetery, closed as unsafe. Photo date: 12-25-03.
South end of west wing of quadrangle. Photo date: 12-25-03.

The photos shot on 12-27-03, after the rain ended, more slides that have not been scanned.
This section was shot on December 3, 2005. This was almost two years after the earthquake and the area around the church was closed and considered unsafe to maintain the cemetery.

Church.

Church.
North side of church. Note the cemetery is not maintained because of the adjacent earthquake damaged church.

Cemetery.
Bell tower on north side of church.


South end of west wing of quadrangle with broken plaster.


Front of damaged church, fenced off and awaiting restoration.

Gateway, closed.

For several years, the forcourt was closed.
Front of damaged church.

Close-up of the window over the door.

This section was shot on September 1, 2007, still waiting for funding.


The church closed and fenced off.


The church closed and fenced off.

The Church is currently under restoration with hope to reopen by Christmas 2009. This section was shot 7-26-09
The church surrounded by scaffold.

The church surrounded by scaffold.

Forecourt and Church.

Front of church surrounded by scaffold.
Front of church surrounded by scaffold.
North side of church with scaffold, cemetery in foreground. .
North side of church with scaffold, cemetery in foreground. .

Front of church with scaffold.

Side of church with scaffold.
The front courtyard with the scaffold surrounded church beyond.

April 4, 2010.

As this photo was taken, the church was retrofited and the rest of the Mission was under repair.
(image links here)

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