Mission Dolores Museum

If you want to see the Mission as it might have looked at its peak, there is a model in a display in the walkway before entering the museum proper. Note the “standard” quadrangle construction with side buildings. What was the bulk of the quadrangle is now taken up by the basilica.

San Francisco Mission Diorama

Picture taken 1:00pm 31 Aug 2003


San Francisco Mission Mural

Picture taken 12:11pm 20 Feb 2012

Continue to the end of the walk between the churches where you will find the museum entrance. On the way you will see the pictures highlighted on the history page here and before you walk through the door be certain to look to the right at the large tile mural by artist Guillermo Granizo. The near-by plaque describes the mural…

1923-1996This ceramic mural is the work of GUILLERMO GRANIZO, a native San Francisco artist. Shortly after Guillermo’s birth in 1923 the Grainizo family moved to Nicaragua for a period of eleven years. The family then returned to San Francisco. Extensive travel and research in Mexico and Central America in 1958 has provided flavor of many of his works.This mural depicts the arrival of the SAN CARLOS in San Francisco Bay while presenting at the same time the arrival of the military representative of Spain, Juan Bautista de Anza, and Father Junípero Serra to symbolize the bringing of the Good News of the Christian Gospel to the natives of California. Father Serra holds in his hand a plan for the facade of Mission Dolores.The sails of the ship tell the story of the coming of civilization to the area. REY signifies the Spanish sponsorship of the colonization; DIOS the spiritual element brought by the Franciscan Fathers; PUEBLO the city of San Francisco that was to grow out of this expedition; and MUERTE to indicated [sic] the gradual disappearance of the Native people of this area. The artist then asks himself ¿QUIEN SABE? What would have happened if civilization had not come; if the people who had inhabited this land had been left to themselves? He leaves the answer to the imagination of the viewer.The green area surrounded by brown in the lower left hand area of the mural represents the island of Alcatraz, and the pelicans symbolize the same island in San Francisco Bay.We are grateful to the artist for placing this mural on extended loan to Mission Dolores since 1984.

The museum itself is somewhat small; however, it is well organized and there are a number of interesting exhibits. In particular, the Indian section has been expanded since 2003. A collection of exhibits is shown here…

Vestments and Small Items

Vestments. Vestments have been, from the early days of the church, a part of the service of the Mass. They come in different colors to represent various feast days, events, or religious parts of the year. Most every mission museum has a collection of vestments on display.

San Francisco Mission Museum Vestments #1

Picture taken 12:11pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Vestments #2

Picture taken 12:11pm 20 Feb 2012

Candlesticks. Like vestments, candles are part of the Mass. The two pictures here show a 19th century brass candlestick and, at the far right, a portion of an 18th century silver candlestick.

San Francisco Mission Museum Candlestick #1

Picture taken 12:17pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Candlestick #2

Picture taken 12:17pm 20 Feb 2012

Reliquaries. These are highly decorated containers that were used to hold relics of the saints. The one of the left is empty and the one on the right is said to contain relics from St. Rose.

SAn Francisco Mission Museum Reliquary #1

Picture taken 12:18pm 20 Feb 2012

SAn Francisco Mission Museum Reliquary #2

Picture taken 12:18pm 20 Feb 2012

A Monstrance (left), small 19th century bronze Hand Bell (right), and a holder for the Mass missal (below) close out the display here. There are, of course, many other items on display in the museum.

San Francisco Mission Museum Monstrance

Picture taken 12:12pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Hand Bell

Picture taken 12:17pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Missal Holder

Picture taken 12:18pm 20 Feb 2012

 Native Peoples Displays

Carved and Woven Things. A paddle used to stir food marks a display of carved things that include (in the lower right corner of the picture) some fire sticks used to start fires by using a bow to spin them. On the right are various woven things, such as baskets and ropes and even a woven duck used in a way similar to carved ducks today.

San Francisco Mission Museum Paddle

Picture taken 12:19pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Woven Things

Picture taken 12:18pm 20 Feb 2012

Useful Things. The mortar pictured on the far left was used to grind pigments. Different colors came from different minerals. On the near left are some bone tools. Expand the picture and see some of the other uses for bone.

San Francisco Mission Museum Mortar

Picture taken 12:19pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Bone Tools

Picture taken 12:19pm 20 Feb 2012

More Useful Things. Many things in nature were of use to the people. On the near right is a plant call Soap Root. As its name implies, when wet the plant provides a nice lather. Expand the picture and see what else it can be used for. On the far right are decoreations carved out of Abalone shells. In some cases the shells were also used as money in exchanges.

San Francisco Mission Museum Soap Root

Picture taken 12:20pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Abalone Decorations

Picture taken 12:20pm 20 Feb 2012

Village Diorama. Along one wall you will find a diorama depicting life as it was in a Churchui Village in 1775. Seen below is a small part of that diorama.

San Francisco Mission Museum Diorama

Picture taken 12:21pm 20 Feb 2012


Statues. Statues in various forms decorated churches and missions as a reminder of sainted people. The St. Francis figure was designed by sculptor Beniamino Bufano (1898-1970). I have no notes on the figure to the right but it might be Our Lady of Sorrows as it is similar to a figure at the Soledad Mission.

San Francisco Mission Museum St Francis Statue

Picture taken 12:22pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Our Lady of Sorrows Statue

Picture taken 12:23pm 20 Feb 2012

Paintings. Two paintings in particular depict the two people most associated with the Mission. On the far left is Saint Serra and just left is Padre Palou.

San Francisco Mission Museum Serra Painting

Picture taken 12:24pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Museum Palou Painting

Picture taken 12:24pm 20 Feb 2012


San Francisco Mission Museum Serra Beatification Painting

Picture taken 12:23pm 20 Feb 2012

Saint Serra Painting. Of particular interest is this portrait that portrays a young Serra at the turning point of his life at 35 years of age and embarking on the start of his missionary career. The painting is the official painting made for the Beatification of Junípero Serra and was executed by Lorenzo Ghiglieri in 1988. In the background is a montage of California and at Serra’s feet is a rose of Castille, which moved Serra when he first entered California. A replica of this painting hung over the portico of Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, on Sunday, September 25, 1988 when His Holiness, Pope John Paul II declared Serra as a Blessed of the Roman Catholic Church, and that his Feast Day is to be celebrated on July 1st of each year.

Treatment of Indians

One of the best descriptions of the politics of the treatment of the Indians by the missionaries was written on a placard in the Mission museum. Keep in mind that a direct descendent of the local Indians is the current manager of the museum and so had to approve the text. It is reproduced below in full (I chose to retype it instead of just showing a picture of it to make it easier to read)…

Junípero Serra and his missionaries did not come to California to study Indian culture; they came to change it. In conjunction with the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Franciscans sought to Christianize and Hispanicize the Indians. Segregation of Christian Indians from their non-Christian brethren in the “wild” ensured effective religious instruction, moral training, avoidance of the occasion of sin, and education in the arts of Western civilization. In Palou’s words:

“They [the Indians] can be conquered first only by their interest in being fed and clothed, and afterwards they gradually acquire a knowledge of what is spiritually good and evil. If the missionaries had nothing to give them, they could not win them over. IF the Indians did not live in a town within hearing of the mission bell, but rather in their villages after the fashion of their pagan days…the missionaries would not be able to get them to leave off their vicious pagan practices.” [Geiger, Palou’s Life of Fray Junípero Serra, p 232]

Eighteenth-century Spanish Franciscan methods of aboriginal evangelization and acculturation must not be judged by twentieth-century standards. European scholars had no scientific means of measuring intelligence, hence the Indians were thought of as “adult children.” Under Spanish law they were legally classified as personas miserables (unfortunate persons) along with the poor, blind, leprous, etc. The missionaries acted as legal guardians in loco parentis (in the place of a parent), and used corporal punishment as a means of discipline. Serra offered the following defense:

“In reference to the care we take of our converts…they are our children; for none except us has engendred them in Christ. The result is we look upon them as a father looks upon his family. We shower all our love and care upon them…. That spiritual fathers should punish their sons, the Indians, with blows appears to be as old as the conquest of these kingdoms; so general, infact, that the saints do not seem to be any exception to the rule. Undoubtedly, the first to evangelize these shores followed the practice, and they surely were saints. In the life of Saint Francis Solano,…we read that, while he had a special gift from God to soften the ferocity of the most barbarous by the sweetness of his presence and his words, nevertheless, in the running of his mission in the Province of Tucumán…we are told in his biography…[that] when they failed to carry out his orders, he gave directions for his Indians to be whipped…. The whole world is aware of the fact that when the famous…[Hernán] Cortes permitted himself or, to speak more accurately, saw to it that he should be flogged by the Fathers, in full sight of the Indians, he took this course of action…to set an example to all.” [Tibesar, Writings of Junípero Serra, 3:253,413]

There is absolutely no documentary evidence to indicate that Serra ever mistreated anyone, either personally or indirectly. On the contrary, he was harshest on himself, seeking to transcend his perceived faults through privation and self-mortification. The California missions and missionaries have always had their detractors, and probably always will. Fueled by emotion rather than persuaded by fact, the allegations tend to generalize and blame Serra for every excess and abuse that occurred during the entire 1769-1834 mission period. The mission system’s greatest “sin” was not individual shortcoming, but inculpable eighteenth-century ignorance. Unable to solve complex medical, social, and environmental problems, the Indian population was drastically reduced, especially through disease. However, the worst was yet to come. When the American flood of “Manifest Destiny” swept into California seeking hides, pelts, gold, and statehood, the decline was catastrophic. California’s estimated pre-1769 Indian population of 300,000 dropped to approximately 150,000 by the end of the mission period in 1834, but between 1848-1900 it fell to an alarming low of 20,000 (Cook, The Population of the California Indians, p. 199). Whether Spanish, English, Russian, or even if no settlers had preceded the Americans, the result would have been the same. At least the Spanish sought to incorporate the Indians into their economic and social structure (including through miscegenation), rather than rigidly excluding and exterminating them.

Exit the museum into the courtyard behind the museum and there you will find a fountain and the Hannon statue of Saint Serra. Don’t forget to rub the toe for luck!

San Francisco Mission Hannon Statue of Serra

Picture taken 12:25pm 20 Feb 2012

San Francisco Mission Fountain

Picture taken 1:30pm 31 Aug 2003