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Navigation for San Miguel Arcángel:

Mission San Miguel Arcángel

In Brief

Founded: 25 July 1797 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: Saint Michael the Archangel
Number in Series: 16th
Indian Name: Vahiá (Vatica) or Chulam (Cholame)
Brand: San Miguel Brand


1795: The site for Mission San Miguel (Most Glorious Prince of the Celestial Militia, Archangel Saint Michael) was selected.

25 July 1797: This summer was a busy one for Padre Lasuén; this Mission is the third of four he opened in 1797. The first appointed administrator for the Mission was Padre Buenaventura Sitjar who had spent the prior 25 years at Mission San Antonio de Padua. He baptized some 15-25 (sources vary between 15 and 25, more say 15) neophytes that first day.

1798: The first mud-roofed church was replaced with a similar structure which lasted until 1806.

1800: The first quadrangle was completed along with an irrigation system, crops, orchards, and a vineyard.

November 1804: One padre and two soldiers headed east with the goal of reaching the Tulare Valley and the formation of one or more asistencias. They reached friendly Indians at the ranchería Bubal and baptized 24. Further on they encountered Indians at war with those at Bubal and could not reconcile the dispute. After becoming involved in the dispute, the padre and soldiers were forced to retreat and give up the idea of asistencias (although mission-related buildings were constructed at various locations later on).

1806: The Mission church, along with many of the outbuildings and equipment, burned in a large fire. All of the stored wool, cloth, and hides were also lost; a major blow as by this time there were over a thousand Indians who depended on the supplies. Mission life quickly resumed thanks to supplies sent from other missions. Building resumed with the goal of a new, permanent adobe structure.

1 October 1807: Padre Juan Cabot was assigned to Mission San Miguel. He served until 12 March 1819. He was later re-appointed to the Mission 7 November 1824 and served to 25 November 1834. Side note: Padre Juan Cabot had a brother, Padre Pedro Cabot at Mission San Antonio de Padua. He was known as "el caballero" (the gentleman) while Padre Juan Cabot was known as "el marinero" (the mariner).

1808: A granary, storage and carpenter room, and sacristy were built.

1810: A house was built at Rancho La Playa, on the coast at what is now San Simeon. At the Mission proper Padre Juan Cabot directed the making of thousands of adobe bricks and tiles toward the eventual construction of a new church.

1812: Another house was built at Rancho Asuncion, located on El Camino Real about three miles northeast of what is now Atascadero.

1812: Don Esteban Carlos Munras came to Monterey as a trader. He was granted the Rancho San Francisquito and traded it for Rancho San Vincente (Soledad today) and thus became active in the Salinas Valley. (Watch for him to reappear later in this history.)

1813: Yet another mission-related building was constructed on Rancho El Paso de Robles, six miles south of the Hot Springs (did you know that modern Paso Robles has hot springs?) and a mile south of what is now Templeton. After 500 years of cold, moist climate, the Salinas Valley was turning hot and Padre Cabot knew that soaking in hot sulfur springs would help the complaints of rheumatoid arthritis common with the Indians at the time.

1814: The stone foundations of the current church were started.

1815: Another mission-related house was built at Rancho del Aguage (near Vineyard Spring some three miles northeast of the Mission--still Mission property). Side note: Mission property originally extended 18 miles both north and south, 66 miles east, and 35 miles west to the Pacific Ocean.

1816: Padre Juan Martín (1770-1824), along with Padre Cabot directed the construction of the church that remains to this day. By using the materials which had been previously made and stored, the church construction was rapid and the basic building was complete in two years. Materials for the church came from far and wide. The ceiling beams, for example, came from pine trees some 40 miles away in what is now Cambria.

1818: The present church structure was completed.

1822: Carlos Munras married Catalina Manzanelli, daughter of a Genovese silk merchant, at the Soledad Mission. He refused to swear allegiance to the Mexican government which had taken over from Spain this same year. (He changed his mind later, however, and became Alcalde of Monterey.)

1824: Determined to beautify the Mission church, Padre Martín contacted Munras whom he had known to be an artist in Barcelona (sources disagree here: some say Padre Cabot was Munras' friend and asked for the favor, but Padre Cabot was not reassigned to the Mission until late in 1824). What is clear is that Munras volunteered to do the work himself and worked with Padres Cabot and Martín and Indian helpers to paint the decorations we see today on the church walls. He also built and decorated the pulpit and the All-Seeing Eye of God above the altar. (Note: Some sources place the decoration earlier, closer to 1820. I've not seen any sources that indicate if Munras was married or single at the time of the decorating which would better pin the date down. But, if earlier, then it would settle the Cabot/Martín confusion as Padre Cabot was not at the mission between 1819 and 1824.) (Return to the church pictures...Icon)

1831: In anticipation of secularization the Indians at the Mission were given their freedom from the Mission. They were, however, so satisfied, that none left. (The order to free the Indians was an illegal order given by the third Mexican Governor, José Maria de Eschendiá.)

August 1834: The Mission was secularized and Mission property was turned over to the Indians. Things started to deteriorate quickly however without the guidance of the padres.

14 July 1836: Ignacio Coronel took over civil government control of the Mission property and lands. As the padres left, so did the Salinan Indians who migrated back to their ancestral lands.

1839: Padre Moreno found the Mission is such a sorry state that he had to retire elsewhere as he could not support himself.

1841: Padre Ramon Abella and 30 Indians were the only residents at the Mission. Padre Abella died July 1841.

1842: Padre Miguel Gomez of San Luis Obispo took over responsibility for both that mission and San Miguel.

1844: Father-President Durán of the mission system reported: "Mission San Miguel Arcángel is to-day without livestock, and the neophytes are demoralized and dispersed."

25 October 1845: Commodore Sloat, commander of American naval forces in the Pacific, was directed by Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft: "Should Mexico, however, the resolutely bent on hostilities, you will be mindful to protect the persons and interests of citizens of the United States near your station, and should you ascertain beyond a doubt that the Mexican government as declared war against us, you will at once employ the force under your command to the best advantage. The Mexican ports on the Pacific are said to be open and defenseless. It you ascertain with certainty that Mexico has declared war against the United States, you will at once possess yourself of the Port of San Francisco, and blockade or occupy such other ports as your force may permit." He followed these orders exactly.

7 June 1846: Sloat obtained information that the war with Mexico had begun and sailed for Monterey the next day. His flagship, the Savannah, was a fast vehicle and he left the British (who had also sailed) behind.

4 July 1846: Governor Pio Pico, in Monterey, sold most of Mission San Miguel (except for the church and padre's quarters). He received $600 in payment. Petronillo Rios and William Reed took over one whole wing as a family residence. History might have changed had he waited just three days...

7 July 1846: Monterey fell to Commodore Sloat and the U.S. flag was raised over the city. Side note: Apparently Sir Francis Drake hoisted the first British flag over California and a descendant (Sloat) was the agent to remove it.

5 December 1848: The California gold rush brought many people through the area; some not of the best character. One of these groups happened to hear Reed brag about hidden wealth from the sale of sheep. When they left, they doubled back and murdered Reed and ten family members and household staff. Despite a search, they found no stash of hidden gold. They left but were chased by a posse from Santa Barbara. The posse caught up with the killers by the Ortega ranch on the coast. One was shot dead; another jumped to his death from a cliff; three others were captured and taken to Santa Barbara. These were (apparently) tried and put to death by firing squad on 28 December 1848. A blood-stained pillar at the Mission stood for quite some time as a reminder of the murder. Further, it's even speculated that the Reed family continues to haunt the Mission. In 1994 a ghost wearing a Navy peacoat was reportedly seen stepping out of the wall of the Mission Church, accompanied by a woman wearing black and gliding six inches off the ground. The ghosts were believed to be Reed and his wife because Reed was known to have worn a peacoat and, as a former sailor, was known as el piloto (the pilot).

Following this murder, the administrative sections of the Mission were used as stores, a hotel, and the "most popular saloon on El Camino Real." It's this saloon that is the origin of the story about the hole in the small bell hanging in the front arcade. (Return to arcade...Icon)

1859: President Buchanan returned the Mission buildings and surrounding property to the Catholic Church.

1878: A priest, Reverend Philip Farrelly, was assigned to the Mission and the parish established. Reconstruction was started.

1928: The Mission was returned to the Franciscans. Restoration continued and continues today. All added structures were built using adobe materials and historic methods. Fortunately, during the dark period the roving bands that passed through the area left the decorations in the church alone; as did "restorers" who might have destroyed them. They stand today as then did when Munras worked on them.

The Mission today serves as a Franciscan novitiate as well as a tourist site, museum and parish church.

22 December 2003: The Mission was badly damaged in an earthquake and the church closed to the public pending rennovation and strengthening. Check here for statements from the Mission.

15 June 2006: The Mission was designated a National Historic Landmark.


  • 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 at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/smiguel.htm
  • Mission Web Site at http://missionsanmiguel.org/
  • Wooltenden, John. "The Frescoes at Mission San Miguel". Paper posted for visitors to read in the Mission church.
  • Mexican-American War Summary at http://www.public.asu.edu/~gtb8923/mexwar.html

Navigation for Mission San Miguel Arcángel:

Mission Home :: History :: Map :: Entrance :: Museum :: Garden :: Residence :: Arcade :: Church :: Cemetery

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Copyright © 2002 Tom Simondi, All Rights Reserved
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