Mission San Rafael History

History In Brief

Founded: 14 December 1817 by Padre Vicente de Sarría
Named for: Saint Raphael the Archangel
Number in Series: 20th
Indian Name: Awániwi (Nanaguiani)
Brand: San Rafael Mission Brand

Detail

1816-17: Discussions and correspondence took place between Governor Solá and Padre Ramón Abella at Mission San Francisco de Asís. These discussions centered on the high death and sickness rate at the San Francisco mission; a rate that had been high for some 40 years, since the founding of the mission in San Francisco. Padre Abella put the causes into three categories:

  • infants/children whose mothers did not know how to care for them,
  • the change from “wild” to “civilized” life presenting coping problems, and
  • the diseases brought by soldiers and settlers weakening the Indian population.

The weather at the San Francisco mission was also considered a strong factor and Governor Solá suggested an experiment: moving some of the Indian population to a sunnier site across the Golden Gate (the water passage; not the bridge!) that had been scouted out by Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga. The experiment was tried with a group of ailing Indians and after a short time they showed a marked improvement. Padre Gil y Taboada, being educated in medical science of the day, volunteered to minister at this new location.

13 December 1817: A group of padres, Padre Vicente de Sarría, Padre Gil y Taboada, Padres Ramon Abella and Narciso Duran, and support people left the San Francisco Presidio. They arrived across the bay and planted a cross as the sun set over the hills.

14 December 1817: Mass was said and the asistencia of Saint Rafael, the Archangel, was formally dedicated. [Side note: Rafael means “healing of God”.] At this point San Rafael became the first sanitarium in California. Despite the fact that this was only supposed to be a health asistencia, on the first day some 26 people were baptized at San Rafael.

1818: Simple adobe buildings were erected at the site. The main building was 80 feet (29 varas) long and 42 feet (15 varas) wide. It was basically one building divided into storehouses, a hospital for the sick, and a monastery for the padres. An open corridor ran down one side of the building. A church was also constructed at one end of the building and at 90-degrees to it. The church had no tower and the bells for it were hung outside the front door on a wooden frame.

No quadrangle was ever built on this site.

1819: Padre Gil’s success at San Rafael brought the number of Indians there to 382 in the first year and the healing value of the site drew the sick from all areas around the site. After two years at San Rafael Padre Gil was replaced by Padre Juan Amorós from Carmel. Padre Amorós served until his death in 1832. [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.]

The structure was extended to almost double its original length this year (roughly 55 feet [20 varas] were added).

While the Mission at Sonoma is perhaps better known as being established to help hold the Russians expansion at bay, Mission San Rafael also had a hand in the politics. Padre Gil even traveled with an expedition up to Bodega Bay with the thought of establishing missions at Petaluma and Suisun; neither of which got close to being established.

Juan Garcia wrote about Easter of 1819…

Two days before Easter several thousand Indians began to arrive and set up camps all throughout the valley. Inside the church the walls were banked on all sides with wild flowers. A procession of 200 boys and girls were [sic] lead by the Missionaries through all the people to the church. As the procession past [sic] every one [sic] knelt and chanted a prayer. At mass the children received the Sacrament of Confirmation. Later in the day many marriages were solemnized. For several days after Easter the Indians celebrated with feasting, horseback riding and horse racing. [From a sign in the Mission window in 2003.]

1820: The tule roofs on the older structures were replaced with tile roofs and some additional buildings added.

19 October 1822: Under Padre Amorós San Rafael flourished even more. So, on this date the asistencia was promoted to full Mission status. Production at the Mission continued to increase and it became famous for its pears.

1823: A new Church was under construction and white washed. It was completed the next year. White washing was used to protect the adobe from the elements and make the structure stand up better to the elements.

February 1829: A group of Indians attacked the Mission. Padre Amorós was saved by a group of Mission Indians who hid him and then formed a human shield to protect him. Ultimately, he hid in the marshes until the fighting was over. The Mission was damaged in this encounter.

The mayordomo’s residence was built.

1832: Padre Amorós dies this year. He is replaced by Padre José María Mercado. Unfortunately, Padre Mercado was short-tempered and sometimes acted rashly. Reports are that upon seeing a group of Indians he did not recognize approaching he armed a group of Mission Indians. These attacked the incoming group, killing 21 and wounding more. Padre Mercado was suspended for six months for this action and exiled to the mission at Soledad.

Vallejo1834: Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. While one of the last to be established, Mission San Rafael was the first to be secularized. Military Commandant Mariano Vallejo was ordered to carry out the secularization of the Mission and distribute property to the Mission Indians. Vallejo, however, saw an opportunity for personal profit. While saying he was acting to benefit the Indians, he actually added the Mission properties to his own holdings in the area and put the Indians to work for him. Vallejo even went so far as to have the pear trees and grape vines dug up and moved to his lands.

While headquartered in Sonoma, General Vallejo’s property was the Petaluma Adobe; now a California State park. See here for additional information: http://www.parks.sonoma.net/adobe.html.

In 1878 General Vallejo approved a 1931 Vischer Drawing of the Mission. It was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. This is a 1940 photo of that drawing. Expand it and you can clearly see the general’s approval in the upper left corner.

Mission San Rafael History 1831 Drawing

1835: Society of California Pioneers Painting by Renaud depiction of the Mission. This painting dates from before 1835 but how far before is unknown. It was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. The picture here is a 1940 photo of the painting.

Mission San Rafael History 1835 Image

18??: The Frances Rand Smith Collection of the California Historical Society contains this depiction of the Mission some time before it completely collapsed. In 1840 the south wall threatened to collapse. The picture was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. The picture here is a 1940 photo of the depiction.

Mission San Rafael History Unknown Image

Kit CarsonJuly 1846: Shortly after raising the Bear Flag at Sonoma, General John C. Frémont was at the Mission San Rafael properties (the structures had not yet collapsed). His lookouts spied three people land from a boat that crossed from San Pablo. The famous Kit Carson (picture to right) was one of the three men sent to intercept them. Carson asked Frémont if the three were to be captured. According to Jasper O’Farrell, Frémont replied, “I have no room for prisoners.” With those instructions in mind Carson’s party approached the three and shot them. Sadly, the three were from Rancho San Pedro where Frémont had recently stayed. It’s likely they were messengers but we’ll never know because they were killed as spies, with no investigation. Frémont met much criticism but never gave any excuse for the act.

August 1854: Below is a plat layout from the U.S. Land Commission, clerk records of Northern California. It was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. The picture here is an April 1938 photo of the layout. I have colorized it to show the agricultural areas in green and the main Mission buildings in red.

1854 Plat Map

1855: A wooden church was built on the site of the original Mission but was later torn down.

1859: Vischer Drawing created after 1859 from the Society of California Pioneers. It was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. The picture here is a 1940 photo of the print.

Vischer 1859 Drawing

1861: On the left is an old print from the Wm. H. Knowles Collection made prior to 1861. It was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress. The picture here is a 1940 photo of the print. Note: This print shows the Mission as the artist thought it looked. By 1861 the buildings had deteriorated well beyond what is shown in the print. On the right is a 1940 photo of an 1861 Oriana Day painting from the DeYoung Museum and also found in the Historic American Buildings Survey. This view is supposed to be from the South.

1861 Print Oriana Day Painting

1862: The Mission buildings, being abandoned and in extreme disrepair, were demolished and replaced with a new parish church; the first of several frame churches on the site. This 1940 photo of an 1862 newspaper picture of San Rafael shows the first of the frame churches circled on the left side of the image. It was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress and the original resided at the Frances Rand Smith Collection of the California Historical Society.

1862 San Rafael

1870: An 1870’s depiction of the Marin County Courthouse has a drawing of the first frame church in the background on the left. This 1940 photo of that depiction was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress and the original resided at the Frances Rand Smith Collection of the California Historical Society.

First Frame Church

1890: By 1890 a second, gothic frame Church had been built on the Mission site. Some reports place the building date at 1870. Below is a 1940 photo of a depiction of this second church dating from 1890. This 1940 photo of that depiction was found in the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey stored at the Library of Congress and the original resided at the Frances Rand Smith Collection of the California Historical Society.

Second Frame Church

1919: The gothic church burned to the ground and the current parish church was constructed.

1936: The Mission was designated as California Historical Landmark No. 220.

Landmark SignPicture taken 11:24am 17 Feb 2012

1949: A replica of the old church building was constructed with a grant from the Hearst Foundation. Since there were no plans to work from many guesses were made in the reconstruction. True to the original, the front was simple with the Mission bell hung on a wooden frame by the door. The cornerstone from the current version of the Mission shows these dates.

CornerstonePicture taken 10:50am 17 Feb 2012

Interesting historical tidbits…

  • Mission San Rafael served under six flags:
    • 1817 – Spain
    • 1834 – Mexico
    • 1846 – California
    • 1850 – United States
    • 1870 – Vatican City
    • 1913 – City of San Rafael
  • Following is a list of pastors for San Rafael from founding to the present (2012) from a brochure at the Mission:
    • Mission Pastors: 1817 – Fra Gil y Taboada, 1819 – Fra Juan Amoros, 1832 – Fra Thomas Estenega, 1833 – Fra Jesus Mercado
    • Pueblo San Rafael: 1834 – Fra Lorenzo Quijias, 1844 – Fra Jose Real, 1845 – Fra Prudencio Santillan, 1849 – Fr. Paulino Romani
    • San Rafael, USA: 1850 – Fr. N. Legrand, 1851 – Fr. John Fahy, Fr. G. Du Monteil, 1853 – Fr. John Ingoldsby, Fr. Patrick Mackin, 1854: Fr. Francis Forethick, Fr. Patrick Mackin, 1855 – Fr. Daniel Slatery, Fr. William Kenny, Fr. Thomas Cody, Fr. J. Washington, Fr. Robert Maurice, 1856 – Fr. Louis Auger, 1859 – Bishop Louis Lootens, 1868 – Fr. Peter Birmingham, 1875 – Fr. James Croke
    • Parish St. Raphael: 1884 – Fr. Hugh Lagan, 1889 – Fr. Thomas Phillips, 1913 – Fr. Patrick Foley, 1919 – Fr. Thomas Brennan, 1923 – Fr. William Fleming, 1934 – Msgr. Thomas Millett, 1937 – Fr. George O’Meara, 1955 – Msgr. Daniel McAlister, 1965 – Msgr. Thomas Kennedy, 1989 – Msgr. Richard Knapp, 1997 – Fr. Paul Rossi, 2011 – Fr. John Balleza

References

  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • Mission Info Page that used to be at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/sanrafael.html
  • Mission Info Page that used to be at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/sanrafl.htm
  • Descriptive Page on Spanish Dons that used to be at http://havnar.home.mindspring.com/documents/dons/dons_7.html