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Navigation for San José:

Mission San José

In Brief

Founded: 11 June 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: Saint Joseph
Number in Series: 14th
Indian Name: Oroysom
Brand: San Jose Brand


1795: Padre Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, President-General of the missions, finally received word that his request for additional missions was approved. Playing a bit of politics, Padre Lasuén enhanced his plea by pointing out that the new missions would save the military money since supply caravans could stop at them; thus saving the need for the military to provide escorts during overnight stays. Then, as today, money talked; and Governor Diego de Borica sent expeditions from four different missions looking for suitable sites. The group from Mission San Antonio de Padua, consisting of Father Antonio Dante and Lieutenant Hermenegildo Sal, and party, found the first site to be approved.

The expedition placed a cross on a point northeast of Santa Clara where they could see both the San Francisco mission and Yerba Buena Island in the distance. The cross was just above Alameda Creek. [Side note: This site is by modern-day Fremont, not San José; don't confuse the location with the name of the Mission.]

9 June 1797: Despite the previous permission, it took two additional years before the Viceroy gave final approval for five new missions. On this date, Padre Lasuén, Padre Diego Garcia, Sergeant Pedro Amador, and their party departed from Santa Clara. Two days later...

11 June 1797: On Trinity Sunday Padre Lasuén raised and blessed a cross at the previously-found point, celebrated Mass, and dedicated a mission to Saint Joseph (Mision del Gloreosisimo Patriarca Senor San José de Guadalupe). The party then returned to Santa Clara.

28 June 1797: Padres Isidore Barcenilla and Augustin Marina, new graduates from San Fernando College in Mexico along with Corporal Alejo Miranda and five soldiers arrived to start the work of the Mission.

The Costanoan Indians in the area lacked the culture of some of the other Indians the padres encountered (e.g., the Chumash). They wore no clothes except for a cape of animal skin during the winter. Early pictures show Indians covered with designs in colored earth. [Side note: The Indians did learn to set the grasses on fire each year during the fall in order to increase the yield of wild seeds. This is believed to account for the lack of trees in the Contra Costa hills.]

July 1797: By the end of the month seven temporary structures had been built (in addition to those built for the padres and soldiers): a 22-foot guard house, 14-foot square storehouse, and several soldiers quarters 14-foot square (plus one 22-feet long for Corporal Miranda). A stockade of 192-feet by 165-feet by 10-feet high was also planned. Several hundred livestock from Santa Clara were added to the Mission.

1798: During the first year the first Church at the Mission was built. It was added to during the second year and, at that time, was 130-feet long, 16.5-feet wide, and 11-feet high. The sides were of wood with a tule-reed roof.

1798: Luis Peralta took over command of the Mission guard from Corporal Miranda.

1799: The two padres divided up the work such that Padre Barcenilla performed the spiritual work and Padre Marina took on the industrial and agricultural work. These latter were demanding, however, and Padre Barcenilla had to be given assistance in this year. Padre José Antonio Uria was assigned to the Mission in this year.

April 1802: Padre Uria took over completely from Padre Barcenilla who had to retire for health reasons. Padre Luis Gil y Taboada was assigned to the Mission to assist him. [Side note: Padre Gil moved around and ended up as pastor at San Luis Obispo 20 Dec 1831 to 21 Nov 1833. His grave is in the church there.]

1805: Padre Uria began construction of an adobe church. Plans for the church came from Padre Arroyo de la Cuesta at Mission San Juan Bautista. Lieutenant Sal, in the 1795 expedition, had mapped out sites for raw building materials so obtaining the necessary supplies was relatively easy. At this site, adobe bricks were made 22- by 11- by 5-inches and each weighed about 60 pounds (bricks were different sizes at each mission). The Church faced West and was 135-feet long by 30-feet wide. Early pictures show niches for statues (but these were later removed). The ceiling was 24-feet and initially consisted of marsh tules. The floor was red brick tile. A large Sacristry and additional storeroom were at the rear of the Church.

1806: Count Nikolai Rezanof of Russia came to San Francisco to obtain supplies for an ailing colony in Sitka, Alaska (and probably to gather intelligence on the area). Dr. Georg Heinrich Langsdorff was with the party and visited the Mission. He wrote about the Mission prosperity. [Side Note: Langsdorff's prophesy largely came true. The Mission became the most prosperous in Alta California (Mission San Luis Rey also makes this claim so it's likely the two were fairly equal). San José exceeded any other mission in number of baptisms and, in the census of 1831 had 1,877 people. Father Englehart quotes the last official census of livestock as 12,000 cattle, 13,000 sheep and 15,000 horses, in 1832.]

1806: Some 18 earthquakes struck the Bay area this year. Damage was done to the unfinished Church along with other buildings. Because of this the bell tower was limited to the roof line.

1806: Padre Buenaventura Fortuni (age 32) was assigned to the Mission with Padre Narciso Durán (age 30) as his assistant. Padre Durán was to stay 27 years.

23 April 1809: Work on the Church completed and it was dedicated by President-General Padre Estévan Tapis.

1810: After the church was dedicated the padres started building adobe homes for the Indians. Each were 20-feet long by 14-feet wide with a door and window and two rooms. They were placed at the Eastern end of the Mission. By 1810 sixty homes were ready (24 were added in 1811 and six more in 1814). A monjeria (women's dormitory) was also built in 1810 with a barracks for single men in 1811. [Side note: At 8pm each evening with the ringing of the Poor Soul's Bell, the majordomo or his wife would lock the door of the monjeria and give the keys to the padres. The keys would be given back in time to unlock the doors for morning Mass.]

1811: The Church's thatched roof was replaced with tiles.

1814: A warehouse and guardhouse were added to the Mission.

1819: A dam and grist mill were constructed on Mission Creek.

10 April 1820: A postscript to a letter from Padre Durán refers to the musical contributions he made to the Contra Costa culture. He wrote: "I overlooked asking the favor of Your Reverence to send us a contra bass viol, that is, one of those large one, the player of which must stand, with good tones, etc., and also four regular violins, with good rolls of bass strings for both instruments". Jedediah Smith (see later) wrote in his diary: "The instrumental accompaniment of the choir consisted of twelve or fifteen violins, five bass viols and one flute".

7 January 1821: Padre Durán gave more insight into the musical culture when he wrote further:

"2nd. The pitch of the organ must necessarily, under penalty of not being useful, be at least one good full tone below the usual ones of our choirs, because the Indians of this Mission generally have poor voice strength to reach and carry high notes. My opinion is that it should have a pitch which will conveniently permit the accompaniment of violins without having to tighten the strings forcibly.

"And 3rd. I am content with only three steps, that is: A flute stop for singing and carrying the voices; a full stop for accompanying the Psalms and for offertories on less formal days; and a bugle stop for solemn and major celebrations - all of good timber which can well fill the whole body of the church, so that it can be well heard and distinguished although thirty or forty boys may be singing.

"May said Brother forgive me for not using the terminology of his specialty, because I am not a master, but an amateur who aspires to accommodate the singing of the choir and the music of the violins to the organ, and as, thanks to the Lord, I have succeeded in this without being a master; I hope to succeed equally in the other."

[Side Note: Padre Durán's choir book is now at the Bancroft Library at the University of California. It's described by the Historic American Buildings Survey as being: "21-3/4 inches by 15-1/2 inches. The covers are boards 1/2-inch thick, overlaid with tanned leather and encloses 156 pages of parchment with notes for the different parts in different colors for easy reading. It is bound together with twine and four strips of thick cowhide, while two pair of iron clasps serve as fasteners for the covers."]

1824: Padre Durán was given the job of President-General of the missions, making San José the Mission System Headquarters. He served until 1827.

1825: Twenty new homes were added this year and 23 more in 1826. By 1825 the Indian population was 1,796.

1827: A soap factory and tannery were put into operation as the Mission kept growing.

1827: Jedediah Strong Smith was one California's earliest American explorers. In this year he arrived at Mission San José searching for provisions but was, through misunderstand, held by Padre Durán for causing discontent among the Indians. A fellow American, Captain Cooper, put up bond with Governor Echeania, allowing Smith to leave Mexican territory.

1828-1829: This was a period of general unrest by Indians around the Mission. The story of Estanislao as related in the Historic American Buildings Survey illustrates this...

"Conflicts with Gentile Indians were of frequent occurrence throughout the history of Mission San Jose, and is not germane to this report, but the story of Estanislao, an Alcade and favorite of Father Duran, who ran away with a tribesman, Cipriano, from Mission Santa Clara, and turned renegade, is important because it illustrates the natural resistance or reluctance for the Indians to give up the freedom of the wilds, harsh as it was, for the regimentation and disciplines of civilization. Estanislao was born at the Mission and grew to manhood as a model neophyte. The free life of the wilderness tempted him and be soon found himself leader of some 500 Gentile and runaway Indians. They established headquarters on the Laquisimes River and carried on depredations against the Mission during the years of 1828 and 1829. Father Duran was stung by the defections and depredations, and the demoralizing affect upon his charges, and was determined to put an end to it. He appealed to the military at the Presidio of San Francisco, but they lacked funds to support the necessary military action. Father Duran offered and did provide mounts, provisions and ammunition as well as Indian converts for transport and work details."

"The military underestimated the resourcefulness and cunning of Estanislao, who had learned much of the white man's military tactics, and three expeditions ended in failure with loss of life on both sides. The Indians swore that they would fight to the death, and the lose of life among the non-combatants as well as among the combatants was heavy. Lieut. Mariano G. Vallejo, a younger brother of Jose de Jesus Vallejo, was commandante at the Presidio and he took personal command of the fourth expedition, which set out on May 29, 1829. This time they mustered all the military strength available, and finally defeated the Indians after a fierce battle in the woods along the river. In the pursuit of the fleeing Indians, the army practically annihilated the Indians - men, women and children. Both sides were charged with committing atrocities, and Father Duran was most critical of atrocities purported to have been committed by Vallejo's army, as contained in his critical report to Governor Echeandia. But the question arises, why should 400 Indians out of not more than 1,800, at one time desert from the Mission life and their vows?"

"Estanislao escaped and returned to the protective wing of Father Duran, who interceded for him and was successful in having him pardoned by the Governor. He continued to live at the Mission until 1839 when he died during the great epidemic of smallpox, which greatly decimated the Indian population throughout California. The Laquisimes River has been named the Stanislaus River, and a county in the Sierras is also named for Estanislao."

April 1829: A large silver bell (the "fourth" bell) was presented to the Mission by Heinrich Wehrmund (written as "Enrique Virmond" in Mission records). The bell weighed 1,000 pounds and incribed "San Jose Mission 1828". [Side Note: This bell is said to now hang in the belfry of Saint Mary's Church at 7th and Jefferson Streets in Oakland. Father Francis F. McCarthy, Administrator at Sacred Heart Church in Oakland, claims that the bell fell from the Mission belfry in 1847 when an earthquake shook the area. It was recast by W.T. Garrett & Company in 1886.]

[Note: Three original Mission bells hang in the present church belfry. The largest is inscribed "Ave Maria Purisima SS. Josph -- 1815" (the "e" is omitted from "Joseph"). The middle bell is inscribed "S.S. Jose --Ano D 1826". The lower bell is inscribed "Ave Maria - S. Joseph".]

1830: Padre Durán was again given the job of President-General of the missions, making San José the Mission System Headquarters until he moved to Mission Santa Barbara in 1933.

July 1830: Just to show how famous people intertwined themselves into Mission history, in this month Captain Ewing Young and 22 mountain men were camped on the Sacramento River and were asked to help the Mexicans in a fight with Indians. In Young's party was Kit Carson, then 21 years old. He was sent with a detachment of men to help and this was his first command in his career as Indian fighter and scout.

1833: Zacatecan, Padre Gonzales Rubio, succeeded Padre Durán in this year. He performed a number of renovations to the church between 1833 and 1840. The chruch was whitewashed and woodwork painted. The carved panel ceiling was replaced with a flat ceiling. A railing was added for the choir and a window opened on the north side of the church. Entrances to the church were made more elaborate and other doors repaired and painted. He also added a tabernacle but was not happy with it, writing "It was a foreign tabernacle, that cost two hundred pesos, but it certainly isn't worth that much".

1834: Mexico's Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. Coupled with the rebellion and resulting loss of faith in the missions, this was largely the death knell for the missions.

1836: Mission San José was secularized. The appointed administrator was José de Jesus Vallejo.

1840: Administrator Vallejo resigned under fire after an investigation by William Hartnell, sent by Governor Alvarado, uncovered poor administration. Hartnell reported starving naked women and children caused by Vallejo's taking assigned food and clothing and giving them to his ranch hands. [Side Note: Vallejo had aquired a grant of 4 leagues of Mission land along Alameda Creek as Rancho Arroyo de la Alameda.]

[Side Note: Vallejo also removed the guard house bell from the Mission. It was used to call farm hands on his ranch, resulting in the ranch getting the name "The Bell Ranch" along with a nearby bridge to be called "The Bell Ranch Bridge."]

The Mission declined through the 1840's due to neglect and the changing governments of the time. As with other missions, land titles changed hands due to corrupt practices.

May 1846: Governor Pio Píco sold the Mission to his brother, Andre Píco and Juan Bautista Alvarado for $12,000. [Side Note: Padre Rubio appraised the Mission properties at $155,000 in 1836.]

Gold Rush Days: Mission Pass was the favorite route between San Francisco and the Mother Lode country. During this period Mission San José became a prosperous trading post and stopping place. One farmer (E.I. Beard) is said to have made $100,000 in one year from potato sales alone. Also the Donner Party's Reed family settled and prospered in the area.

1854: Over time many art objects were added to the Church. A visitor to the Chruch in 1854 wrote: "The interior of the Church of Mission San José is as clear as St. Mary's (Oakland, California, established in 1853) with a broad tile floor, fresco painted walls, and a lavish distribution of paintings. The vicinity of the Altar is richly ornamented".

December 1856: The U.S. Land Commission, after courts had declared the Pio Píco sale fraudulent, confirmed the church, two graveyards and two gardens to belong to the Catholic Church. In 1858 the church and about 28 acres of land were returned to the Catholic Church.

1860's: The main church was weaken when the buttressing walls were removed by French Priest Father Federy. At the time, the Church was serving Saint Joseph's Parish. You can see that the Church is in bad shape in this picture from the California Historical Society found in the Library of Congress Historical American Buildings collection.

1860s ChurchExpand

21 October 1868: The Mission was largely destroyed by the Hayward earthquake. The Church and most of the buildings were destroyed, leaving part of monastery wing which is now a museum. This photo of a painting from the California Historical Society and found in the Library of Congress Historical American Buildings collection pretty much shows the destruction.

After 1868 EarthquakeExpand

After the earthquake, Father Federy cleared the site and built a Normandy-style parish church. The original Mission tiles were still under the floor of that church. This church served as the parish church until 1965. This photo from the California Historical Society and found in the Library of Congress Historical American Buildings collection shows how this Church looked.

Post 1868 ChurchExpand

1915: Two granite markers were erected in a neglected Indian Omatery about a mile from the MIssion. One of these bears the inscription:


The picture above was found in the Historical American Buildings collection at the Library of Congress.

1934: This picture of the Mission entrance was found in the Historical American Buildings collection at the Library of Congress.

Mission EntranceExpand

January 1956: The City of Fremont was incorporated. Mission San José became a district within the city.

7 July 1959: The city recognized its historical roots and passed an ordinance titled "An Ordinance of the City of Fremont Amending the Zoning Ordinance to Establish Certain Historical Districts Within the City". The ordinance set up a Historical Architectural Review Board to "pass upon the appropriateness of exterior architectural features of buildings and structures as well as site plans....to insure that the historical character of the community be preserved".

1982: The frame church on the site was sold by the Catholic Archdiocese for $1 to the Christ Church congregation in San Mateo across the bay. The steeple was removed and the 33 stained glass windows boxed. The building was then cut into multiple pieces and moved to El Camino Real and State Street in San Mateo where it was reassembled. It still serves as an active church (for more information, take the detour Detour). Meanwhile reconstruction of the original Mission was started on the Mission site. Authentic adobe bricks were used and tools of the early 1800's were used in the construction work to the extent possible.

The Mission museum has a much of one wall dedicated to pictures of the reconstruction. I'm putting a few of those here as a sample...

1991 (top) and 1815 Plans
Mission Plan - Old and NewExpand
Picture taken 10:53am 22 Feb 2012
Refurbishing Artwork
Working on ArtifactsExpand
Picture taken 10:54am 22 Feb 2012
Stacking Adobe Bricks
Church ConstructionExpand
Picture taken 10:54am 22 Feb 2012
Re-dedication Mass
Picture taken 10:55am 22 Feb 2012

1985: The reconstruction was rededicated. The church now appears much as it did in 1809. The interior looks much as it did in the 1830's, just before secularization.

2001-2002: The building the museum is in was seismically retrofitted.

Padres of Mission San José before 1850

This list was presented on a wall sign in the Mission Museum.

  • Isidoro Barcenilla (1797-1802)
  • Agustin Merino (1797-1799
  • Luis Gonzaga Gil y Taboada (1802-1805)
  • Jose Antonio de Uria (1799-1806)
  • Pedro de la Cueva (1805-1806)
  • Buenaventura Fortuny (1806-1826)
  • Narciso Duran (1806-1833)
  • Jose Maria de Jesus Gonzalez Rubio (1833-1842)
  • Miguel Muro (1842-1845)
  • Jose Maria Suarez del Real (1845-1850)



  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • Weber, Msgr. Francis J. Encyclopedia of California's Catholic Heritage. St. Francis Historical Society and The Arthur H. Clark Company. 2000.
  • Mission Info Page previously at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/sanjose.htm
  • Mission Info Page previously at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/sanjose.html
  • Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record San Jose Mission Data Sheet at the Library of Congress
  • Levy, Joan. "Christ Church preserved a piece of history." The Daily Journal. 23 February 2004.


Navigation for Mission San José:

Mission Home :: History :: Museum-1 :: Museum-2 :: Church-1 :: Church-2 :: Cemetery :: Garden/Exterior :: Christ Church

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