U. S. Mission Trail / The Mission Trail Today - The Spanish Missions in California
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#8, Santa Clara de Asis
Founded January 12, 1777
by Father Junipero Serra.
Santa Clara.

Personal Observations

On our first visit, another couple said that they were looking for another building that they heard about but couldn't find. The University web site does include a map, but the emphasis is on the active University buildings, not mission ruins. My e-mails requesting more information were not answered. We visited Mission Santa Clara four times in 2003 and 2004 and don't know if there is any more to see. If there is more to see, please someone let me know. Photo-Art
Mission Art & Photo-Art


Mission Santa Clara de Asis was founded January 12, 1777 by Father Junipero Serra and eventualy grew into Santa Clara College, the first University in California.

The mission is now within the Santa Clara College campus. Little of the original mission survives. As you enter the campus on the east through the main gate on The Alameda, Highway 82, notice the cross to the right. Pass the information booth and you will see the final mission church ahead. Turn right at the first small street and right again into the parking lot where parking is free on the weekend. Walk back to the cross by the entrance. Laid out in stone on the ground is the outline of an earlier church. The outline actually extends beyond into a bordering cul-de-sack. Then walk back to the final church. This final church is one of the largest mission churches surviving and still in daily use. To the south (left) you will find some garden areas and the partially intact remains of a wall and colonnade. Follow this to the last remaining adobe structure that I could find, besides the church.

Summary History of the Six Churches

Mission Santa Clara de Asis was founded January 12, 1777. While it was not unusual for missions to move their overall location or rebuild the churches on original or new locations, Mission Santa Clara's history is defined by its six churches in a way unlike the other Missions. From the founding in 1777 to 1837 when it ended its mission era, the mission complex was moved twice due to flooding and once because of an earthquake. In total, the six churches occupied five locations. Here I will briefly cover the five sites and six churches before covering the overall history of the mission.

First Mission site:

The first mission site (1777-1779) was founded on January 12, 1777 near the southern end of San Francisco Bay along the Guadalupe River near Mission Creek near the north end of present-day San Jose Airport. This site was destroyed by flood on January 23, 1779 when the Guadalupe River overflowed. A marker is reported to be near the southeast corner of De La Cruz Boulevard and Central Expressway, but this author was unable to find it.

Second Mission site:

The mission was moved south to higher ground away from the river where it operated until 1784. A marker and small garden are at the northeast corner of De La Cruz Boulevard and Marten Street.

First & Second Mission sites:

These first two missions were made of wattle and daub which does not leave much of an archaeological record. To date, no clear evidence has been found for the location of the first two mission sites.

Third Mission site:

The third mission site was developed while the second was still in use with the cornerstone laid on November 19, 1781. The church was dedicated on May 16, 1784 and the quadrangle and other structures were built over a thirty-five year period. This complex was made of adobe and tile. As each new structure in the fourth site was completed, the roof tiles of the old buildings in the third site were stripped off for reuse. By the end of the 18th century, the adobe of site three had completely melted back into the earth from which it had come. In 1911 the ruins were found while digging for a gas line and today the outline of the church and part of the quadrangle is emphasized as part of the landscaping and in a street at the northeast corner of the Santa Clara University campus. The only building remaining from site three is the Pena Adobe, now the Santa Clara Women's Club at 3260 The Alameda (between Benton and Franklin Streets).

Fourth Mission Site:

The fourth site, Mission Heights, was not far from the third and would eventually form the nucleus of the Santa Clara University. Construction began in 1818 and the quadrangle was dedicated August 11, 1825. This marked the fourth church on the fourth site. The new quadrangle was used as a boy's dormitory until secularization. After secularization, the property passed to private hands but was bought by Santa Clara College in 1860. The building was demolished in 1867 and the adobe spread about the site. By 1924 when the university completed Kenna Hall on the site, nothing remained of the fourth church.

Fifth Mission site & 6th church:

The fifth and sixth churches were built on the same site a few hundred feet northwest of the fourth. The fifth church was begun in 1822, even before the dedication of the quadrangle at the fourth site in 1825. Today three sections of this fifth site survive, the Faculty Club southwest of the church, a wall south of the church, and the cemetery to the north. The church remained in use until it was destroyed by fire in 1926. Also destroyed in the fire was a student chapel built about 1885 on top of the cemetery next to the church - the steps to the chapel remain on the west side of the cemetery.

The sixth and present church was constructed on the same location as the destroyed fifth church in 1928. It remains in use today.

Third, Fourth, Fifth Mission Site:

On what is today Santa Clara University Campus, three complexes of adobe mission buildings were built dating, 1784-1818, 1818-(C) 1860, 1822-1926. The current church was built in 1928 to replace one lost to fire.

General History:

Gaspar de Portolá’s land expedition to Monterey Bay, which continued north along the coast to San Francisco and than back south along the west side of San Francisco Bay, first visited the Santa Clara Valley in 1769. Other expeditions passed through the area in the 1770s. Juan Crespí, Francisco Palóu, Pedro Font, and Juan Bautista de Anza all wrote of the broad plain of grass and oaks, well watered, and populated with native people. They suggested the valley, known then as Llano de Los Robles (Plain of the Oaks), as a site for a Mission. In 1774, an expedition ordered by Spanish Viceroy Antonio Bucareli to find a location for a Mission was lead by Governor Fernando de Rivera y Moncada and Fray Francisco Palóu. They chose a location along San Francisquito Creek with adequate water but an expedition lead by de Anza and Font two years later found the creek dry and recommended another site on a river to be named Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe).

To secure the San Francisco Bay region from Russian and British expansion, Viceroy Bucareli ordered a 1773 exploration of the area. His plan was to establish two Missions, one at the mouth of the bay and one at the southern end. The northern mission, San Francisco de Asís, was founded on September 1, 1772 but the southern Mission was still looking for a site. In November 1776, Governor Rivera and Fray Tomás de la Peña journeyed again to the area looking for a site and settled on a location along the Guadalupe River. Upon Rivera's return to Monterey on November 30, he sent Fray José Murguía, with soldiers and supplies to found a new Mission to be named Santa Clara. On January 12, 1777, Fray de la Peña said the first Mass at the new Mission at a makeshift altar next to a cross and under a tree. Mission Santa Clara de Asís, was the eighth mission to be founded in Alta California. Fray Murguía arrived from Monterey shortly after with supplies including religious articles collected from the Missions of Baja as early as 1768.

Two missionaries were assigned to Mission Santa Clara de Thamien and set to work converting the local native people. By the end of 1777, the Mission consisted of a church, priests' residence, and another house under construction, all built of wood logs with dirt roofs. Also built were corrals and a wooden bridge over the Guadalupe River.

Agricultural products included cattle, sheep, goats, and grain. Fearing floods at the original location, Franciscan Padres Tomás de la Peña and Joseph Antonio Murguía moved what they could to a new higher location a little to the south, thus establishing the second site.

Peña and Murguía and their workers built new structures and irrigation ditches at the second site which was blessed by Fray Juñipero Serra on November 11, 1779. This second site was temporary while the two padres searched for a new permanent location. In 1781 Peña and Murguía had found a new site far enough from the river to be safe from flooding but close enough to use the river for irrigation. On November 19, 1781, Father Serra blessed the site and laid a cornerstone for the third Mission Church. The cornerstone contained a cavity into which were placed objects of significance. The stone was discovered in Franklin Street by gas-line workers in 1911 and is now in the on-site museum. In May 1784 the new church was completed, this time an adobe structure 100 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 20 feet high with four foot thick walls. Paintings adorned the whitewashed walls. The church was designed by Fray Murguía, who sadly died four days before the dedication on May 15, 1784. The dedication was celebrated by Father Serra, Fathers Peña and Palóu, Governor Pedro Fages, soldiers, and the residents at the Mission and the nearby Pueblo of San Jose. The celebration was accompanied by various sounds such as bells, gun, and fireworks. A quieter first Mass was celebratred by Father Serra the next day which was a Sunday. King Carlos III of Spain sent a gift of bells, one of which still survives, and requested that the bells be rung every evening at 8:30 PM in memory of the dead.

Mission Santa Clara, performed more baptisms (8,536) than did any other mission but also more burials. The padres taught the native people trades and the Spanish language.

The Mission operated at the third site for 34 years. The third church was destroyed by earthquake in 1818 and a new church was built on a new site. In the early 1900s the site was discovered and the outline of the church and other building have been incorporated into a street and neighboring gardens at the northeast corner of the Santa Clara University campus. The only original structure remaining was part of a row of houses built about 1792-1800 for Indian families and is now used for the Santa Clara Women's Club.

Following the destruction of the third chirch by earthquake in 1818, Fray José Viader and Fray Magín Catalá built a temporary adobe church which was used from 1819 to 1825 as a church and as Indian boys' residence from 1825 to 1836. Following secularization, the building was used as a dance hall, was purchased by the university in 1860, and demolished in 1867. Kenna Hall now occupies the site a short distance from the current church. Frays Viader and Catalá served at Santa Clara from the 1790s to the 1830s. Records of 1827 showed an inventory of 14,500 head of cattle and 15,500 head of sheep.

Mexico won its independence from Spain following a war begun on September 16, 1810 and eneded September 27, 1821. Construction of the fifth church began in 1822, was completed in 1825, and dedicated Aug. 11, 1825. The church was built of adobe and measured 100 feet long, 22 feet wide and 20 feet high with walls four feet thick at the bottom, tapering to two feet thick at the top. The adobe was covered with plaster and whitewashed with a decorative painted border on the interior. Augustin Davila, a Mexican artist, painted the scene of heaven above the altar. The mission was laid out in a traditional quadrangle consisting of the church, residences, workshops, and storerooms. Today, parts of this quadrangle survive as the Adobe Lodge which houses the university Faculty Club and an isolated section of adobe wall. Mission Santa Clara was secularized on Dec. 27, 1836 and it was turned over to the the Jesuits. American squatters lived on mission property for a time and the church was operated as a parish during the 1830s and 1840s serving the religious needs of the town of San José.

In 1851, Santa clara University was founded on the former Mission site as the first institution of higher learning in the state. The first few years of the university's existance were difficult but progress resulted in the church being remodeled in the early 1860s, adding a wooden facade over the old adobe and a second bell tower. Some Mission buildings were used for the young university and the fifth church was still in use as the universary chaple until it was destroyed by fire that started on the night of October 24 / 25, 1926. The fire was blamed on faulty wiring in the north bell tower. The fire was discoved during morning Mass and students and faculty tried unsuccessfully to save the building and managed to rescue several piecs of statuary, art, religious objects, and one bell which rang the De Profundis for the dead that night which was the tradition. A small student chaple adjacent to the church had been built over the old cemetery and was also destroyed. The steps of the student chaple remain.

A new, sixth, church was built on the site of the fifth. Construction of a replacement church began immediately and while larger than the fifth church, it was built to resemble the original appearance of the 1825 church with one bell tower. The reredos (wall behind the altar) and painted ceiling were copies of the original church. Roof tiles from the previous chuch had been removed and stored when problems developed with that roof and these tiles were used on the new church. Paintings were recreated from photographs. The sixth Mission Church was dedicated May 13, 1928. Three of the four bells in the tower are operational and date to (two bells) 1799, 1928, and 1929. They are rung at various times including to call to Mass.

Today the church and some of the buildings are still in use by the university and the Women's Club. The old Mission buildings are accompanied by new university buildings.

A small museum is a few steps from the chuch and houses artifaces from the earlier Mission days. The church is about the middle of the west side of the university. There is usually adequate parking for Mission visitors on the weekend, enter from El Camino Real. The site of the third church is just east of the parking lot.

Address and Directions

500 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95053

Mission Santa Clara de Asis is located on the Santa Clara University campus.

Mission Santa Clara is just west of the San Jose Airport. (Mission San Jose is some distance north of San Jose in Fremont.)


Southbound on U.S. 101: Exit Tomas Expressway G4. Turn right and proceed south to El Camino Real and turn left onto El Camino Real (about 1.5 miles). Follow about a mile and follow curve to right. Right turn into Santa Clara Campus.
Southbound on U.S. 101 alternate: Follow 101 past airport and take Interstate 880 south and follow past southern end of airport. Exit Alameda (Highway 82) and turn right (north on Alameda). Follow S curve to right and laft turn into campus.
Northbound on U.S. 101: Take Interstate 880 south and follow past southern end of airport. Exit Alameda (Highway 82) and turn right (north on Alameda). Follow S curve to right and laft turn into campus.
I prefere the 880 option.

Photography Gallery

Santa Clara
Front exterior of chapel. This is the sixth church built for Mission Santa Clara de Asis and sits on the the fifth site on which this mission built a church. 3-9-03.
Church Interior
Chapel interior. 3-9-03.
Entrance to Santa Clara University
Entrance to Santa Clara University. Photo date: 12-26-03.
Front and center. Obviously the University is proud of its mission church. 11-29-03.
Church. 11-29-03.
Church. 11-29-03.
Santa Clara
Bell tower. 3-9-03.
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Photo date: 5-31-04 Photo date: 5-31-04
Santa Clara - El Camino Real Bell
These mission bells can be found in many locations along the El Camino Real. 11-29-03.
Garden Entry
Entry to the garden. 11-29-03.
Left of church. 11-29-03.
Santa Clara
Shrine. 3-9-03.
Santa Clara
Surviving outer wall from 1822 mission. The area to the right was the site of the mission garden. 3-9-03.
Santa Clara
Surviving wall. One of only two remainig structure from 1822 mission. 3-9-03.
This cross at the entrance to the university marks the location of the third church. The original location has been marked with pavers. One corner extends into an adjacent street.
Cross at Entrance
Photo date: 11-29-03.
Site of Earlier Church
Photo date: 12-26-03.

Site of Earlier Church
These pavers mark the location of the third church which was built in 1731 and destroyed in 1818. Photo date: 12-26-03.
Site of Third Church
In the lawn, are pavers to mark locations of other mission buildings. Photo date: 12-26-03.
Site of ThirdChurch
Photo date: 12-26-03.
Site of Third Church
Photo date: 12-26-03.

New images from May 2010.

These steps lead to the Student Chapel which was lost in the fire of 1926????

This intersection is believed to be near the first site for the Mission. This author was unable to find the marker reported to be located here.

Kenna Hall was built on the fourth Mission site.

links here


*** Reference: Archaeology at Santa Clara de Asis: The Slow Rediscovery of a Moveable Missions by Russell K. Skowronek and Julie C. Wizorek.

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This page last updated: Monday, 27-Jun-2016 01:44:03 EDT
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