The Fourth of the California Missions
September 8, 1771
Pride of the Missions
Gabriel, Holy Prince of Archangels
Mission San Gabriel
Founding Father President:
The Blessed Junípero Serra, first Father President of the California missions
Fathers Pedro Benito Cambón and Angel Fernandez Somera y Balbuena
The mission was originally established along the slopes of the Montebello hills at the native site of Shevaanga, overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. In 1775 the mission was relocated to the native site of Iisanchanga "about a league" (3 miles) to the northwest. This mission is 9 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.
Traditional quadrangele, with soldier's barracks, neophyte housing, warehouses, and other structures (forming a second incomplete quadrangle) extending out from the central compound.
The Rio Hondo and several springs fed an aqueduct, reservoirs, and a canal system that provided abundant water to the mission and its extensive vineyards, orchards, gardens, and mills.
Within fifteen years of its founding San Gabriel had 1,000 neophytes. The highest population recorded was 1,701, in 1817.
Starting with only 128 animals in 1772, the mission herd reached 42,350, primarily cattle (25,000) and sheep (15,000) at its peak in 1829.
Over its active life San Gabriel was far more productive than any other mission in California havesting over 353,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, lentils and garbanzos (chickpeas).
The unique San Gabriel church, completed in 1805, features a Moorish, "fortress-like" appearance, with capped buttresses and long narrow windows along the prominent side wall. The style is similar to the Cathedral in Cordova Spain.
Six bells occupy an espadaña or bell wall. The oldest bells were cast in Mexico City in 1795 by the famous bell maker, Paul Ruelas. The largest bell (dated 1830) weighs over a ton and was used for over a century to ring the Angelus, a prayer said at morning, noon, and evening in commemoration of the Incarnation.
The Stations of the Cross are said to be authentic neophyte Indian paintings. They were exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbia Expedition in commoration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World.
In 1846, what remained of the mission estate was granted to a Messieurs Reid and Workman on the condition that they pay all remaining claims to the mission creditors and support the mission's padres without obstructing community access to the church. The title granted to Reid and Workman was deemed invalid by the U.S. Land Commission in 1855, and the property returned to the Church in 1859.
Year Returned to Catholic Church:
1859 (decree signed by President James Buchanan).
Active Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
Claretian Missionaries have been responsible for San Gabriel since 1908.
Prominent Missionary Leaders:
Between1775 and for the next 28 years, Fathers Antonio Cruzado and Miguel Sanchez worked together to make this one of the most successful missions in California. Fr. José Zalvidea continued their work for another 20 years, and is credited with introducing large-scale viticulture to California.
Indians Joining This Mission:
In the mission era these natives, who spoke one of the Cupan or Cupeño languages of the Takic family, were called Gabrieleño after the mission. Known now as the Tongva, the descendants were recognized as a distinct tribe by the State of California in 1994. They have sought Federal recognition for decades.
The main entrance to the church is quite plain. In the mission era the prominent door in the side wall of the church opened directly onto El Camino Real, ("Royal Road") connecting the missions, pueblos and presidios.
San Gabriel was located astride three prominent trails. Settlers, military expeditions, and travelers frequently stayed at this mission, which had turbulent relations with the Native Americans because of the large military presence.
San Gabriel had the largest vineyard in Spanish California and was the botanical source of many of the vines planted in the other missions in the chain.
Missionaries from San Gabriel guided the development of the Church of our Lady of the Angels at the pueblo (town) of Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles, founded in 1781