Mission Soledad History

In Brief

Founded: 9 October 1791 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: Our Lady of Solitude (Our Lady of Sorrows)
Number in Series: 13th
Indian Name: Chuttusgelis
Brand: Soledad Mission Brand

Detail

1769: On their march north to find Monterey, Captain Gaspár de Portolá and Padre Juan Crespí followed the Salinas River. They camped by the river in a brown and desolate valley. Curious Indians were asked about the area and the only word Padre Crespí thought he understood was soledad, Spanish for loneliness.

1771: Blessed Serra passed through the area after founding Mission San Antonio de Padua. When he asked an Indian her name he also heard soledad. This was documented and remembered.

9 October 1791: Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén came to the area and dedicated the 13th mission to Our Lady of Solitude; an apt name for the desolate location.

The valley floor was a dry, windy plain that became boiling hot during the summer yet freezing cold during the winter. Building was slow. It took a year just to erect a temporary church.

1797: The first large church was finished on the site.

With an irrigation system built from the Salinas River the Mission transformed the valley and it did prosper even though the weather extremes limited the length of time any of the padres wanted to stay at the site (about 30 were assigned to the Mission during its short life).

1803: Padre Florencio Ibañez was assigned to the Mission and becomes the only resident padre that stayed for any length of time (15 years).

1805: The main church is enlarged. A peak neophite population of 688 was recorded in this year.

1814: The Spanish Governor of Alta California, José Joaquín de Arrillaga, was touring the missions. During his stop at Soledad to visit his friend Padre Florencio Ibañez he died and was buried under the church floor. At his request, he was buried in a Franciscan habit. His gravesite is marked at the Mission.

26 November 1818: Padre Ibañez dies, ending a 15 year stay as the resident padre. He was buried under the church floor and is the only padre buried at the Mission. His gravesite is marked at the Mission.

1824: The Salinas River was both friend and foe during the life of the Mission. This year the river rose and destroyed the church. A chapel was built to replace it.

1828: The Salinas River again rose and destroyed the chapel. Again, reconstruction began.

1832: Yet another flood destroyed what was being rebuilt. This was the turning point from which the Mission has only recently partially recovered. Father José Mercado arrives from Mission San Rafael. He was sent from that Mission as punishment for bad behavior there.

1834: Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. This sealed the fate of the Mission; happening so soon after the last flood.

May 1835: The last Franciscan at the Mission, Padre Vicente Francisco de Sarría, was saying Mass and fell at the altar. He passed away later in the day. The few Indians remaining at the Mission built a litter and carried the body some 25 miles to Mission San Antonio de Padua for burial.

1846: Governor Pio Pico, in his effort to rape the missions before the United States took over California, was only able to obtain $800 for the Mission remains. Sale of the roof tiles left the walls unprotected and open to the elements.

1849: J. Ross Browne of Soledad wrote this about the Mission: “A more desolate place cannot well be imagined. The old church is partially in ruins, and the adobe huts built for the Indians are roofless, and the walls tumbled about in shapeless piles. Not a tree or shrub is to be seen anywhere in the vicinity. The ground is bare, like an open road, save in front of the main building where carcasses and bones of cattle are scattered about, presenting a disgusting spectacle.”

March 1850: H.M.T. Powell produced this drawing of the Mission published in “Santa Fe Trail.” This drawing was found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress.

Soledad Mission HAB 1850 Powell

1861: To show the differences in how people see the missions, look at this Oriana Day painting from the DeYoung Museum, San Francisco. This drawing was found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress.

Soledad Mission HAB 1861 Oriana Day

23 May 1862: President Lincoln signed a decree that formally returned mission lands to the Catholic Church. However, nothing but adobe stubs remained at the Mission site and it was not reoccupied.

1870s: Another depiction of the Mission from the 1870s by Vischer. This drawing was found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress.

Soledad Mission HAB 1870s Vischer

1873: Another depiction of the Mission by Vischer. This drawing was found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress. [Note: This appears to be a simple enlargement of the middle of the picture above but I’ve included it as they are two individual HAB pictures.]

Soledad Mission HAB 1873 Vischer #1

June 1873: Another Vischer depiction of the Mission from. This drawing was found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress.

Soledad Mission HAB 1873 Vischer #2

1870s: Now for an actual photo from this same period so you can compare the drawings with reality. This photo was found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress.

Soledad Mission HAB 1870s

Over time, the Mission basically fell apart. These photos were found in the Historic American Buildings survey housed at the Library of Congress.

Soledad Mission HAB 1870s #1

Soledad Mission HAB 1870s #2

Soledad Mission HAB 1870s #3

1954: After a hundred years of complete neglect the Native Daughters of the Golden West began the restoration of Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad. First to be restored was the white chapel. The restored chapel was dedicated 9 October 1955, on the Mission’s anniversary day.

1963: The padres’ residence wing was restored.

Plans to restore the entire quadrangle have been made; its outline can still be seen in the adobe mounds. Lack of funds have put the plans on hold for now. The phases of this plan are on the Museum wall.

Soledad Mission Restoration Plans

Photo taken 1:39pm 26 Feb 2012

The floor of the church has been found as well as the graves of Governor Arrillaga and Padre Ibañez. A garden graces the site as well.

References

  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • Mission Info Page previously found at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/soledad.htm
  • Mission Info Page previously found at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/soledad.html
  • Mission Info provided at the Mission in a tour guide.