San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo

San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo Key Facts

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, headquarters of the California missions, was founded on June 3, 1770. The stunning Mission Carmel church was completed in 1797. This mission contains a great deal of significant art and original artifacts. The Serra Memorial Cenotaph (sculpted by Jo Mora in 1924) is a special attraction.

General Information

San Carlos Borroméo de Carmelo

Founded:
June 3, 1770
Also Called:
Mission Carmel
Current Status:
Active Roman Catholic Church designated a Minor Basilica in 1961
Summary:
San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, headquarters of the California missions, was founded on June 3, 1770. The stunning Mission Carmel church was completed in 1797. This mission contains a great deal of significant art and original artifacts. The Serra Memorial Cenotaph (sculpted by Jo Mora in 1924) is a special attraction.

Key Facts About This Mission

Named For

Saint Charles of Borromeo, a 16th-century Italian cardinal.

Founding Father President

Junipero Serra Portrait Fr. Junipero Serra, who was also the founding missionary.

Serra burial site Serra, who was canonized by Pope Francis I in 2015,  is buried at this mission.

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Fr. Lasuen portrait San Carlos Borromeo remained the mission headquarters after the death of Junípero Serra, whose successor, Fr. Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, was located at Mission Carmel for 17 years. 

Indians Joining Mission

Drawing of Monterey area IndiansThe Rumsen tribelet (of Costanoan family) and the Esselen were the principal groups whose members joined this mission. Other Costanoans (called Costeños or coast people by the Spanish) included the Sargantroc, Guachirron, and Kalendaruc.

Mission Site

Originally established at the presidio in Monterey but relocated in 1771 to the Carmel Valley on a hillside that was "two gunshots" from the ocean. 

San Carlo Mission The mission was a relatively primitive series of buildings until the current church was completed in 1797.

Layout

An irregular shaped quadrangle. Only the ruins of the church remained standing when restoration began, so extensive excavation of the old foundation was required to determine the precise layout of the mission. 

Water Source

A zanja, or aqueduct, and nearby springs that once fed the mission fountain and lavandería, or washbasin.

Population

The highest recorded population was 876 in 1795.

Livestock

Cattle Brand San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo had one of the smaller livestock herds: 2,100 cattle and 3,300 sheep in 1832. The mission's best livestock years were in the first decade of the 19th century when the herd ranged between 8-10,000.

Agricultural Output

The mission had extensive agricultural fields away from the coast, where wheat, barley, corn, beans, and various vegetables were grown at mission ranchos. Over the years 1782-1832, Carmel reported harvesting over 154,000 bushels of grain and produce.

Mission Church

The stunning Carmel church (the seventh Carmel church) was completed and dedicated in 1797. Indian laborers under the direction of master stonemasons Manuel Esteban Ruiz and Santiago Ruiz quarried the sandstone for the church. The walls are five feet thick at the base.

Carmel Mission with pitched shingle roof before restorationAfter the mission era, San Carlos Borromeo was largely abandoned. The roof of the church collapsed in 1851. In 1884 a pitched shingle roof was added, marring the once graceful roofline.

 

In 1936 the roof was rebuilt to its original roofline.

Mission Bells

There are two dissimilar bell towers, one with a Moorish-style dome. The largest tower holds nine bells, most of which are original. There is an outside staircase to the tower.

Mission Art

Original Cross Replica Mission Carmel is filled with significant art and original artifacts. One of the most notable mission era attractions is a large wooden cross in the quadrangle, recreated on the site where fragments of the cross erected by Fr. Serra were discovered during the mission restoration. 

Significant Events

In 1818 Hippolyte de Bouchard, an Argentine privateer, attacked and burned Monterey. The Carmel mission was evacuated but it was not harmed.

Secularized

1834

Year Returned to Catholic Church

1859

Interesting Facts

San Carlos Borromeo was the headquarters of the mission chain from 1770-1803.

The Orchard House, Mission CarmelThe Carmel mission Orchard House of circa 1774 is the oldest residential dwelling in California.

The noted mission restorer, Sir Harry Downie (1903-1980), appointed the Carmel curator in 1932, guided the mission restoration for almost five decades, personally carving the reredos and pulpit of the church in 1956-57. Downie is buried in the mission cemetery. 

Fr. Junípero Serra was selected to represent the state of California in Statuary Hall in Washington D.C. Sculptor Ettore Cadorin's 7' fall statue of Fr. Serra, was unveiled in 1939. It pictures Serra holding a model of the Mission Carmel church.

President Kennedy at Carmel San Carlos Borromeo is a popular destination for visitors, including celebrities like President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, who toured the mission in 1960.

Additional Information
  • Pagliarulo, C. (2005). Harry Downie and the Contents of the Mission San Carlos Borromeo, 1931-1967. Historical Society of Southern California.
  • Coy, O.C. (Ed.) (1921). Architectural History of Mission San Carlos Borromeo. California Historical Survey Commission.
  • Engelhardt, Z (1934 & 1971). Mission San Carlos Borromeo. Ballena Press. (The definitive early history of the mission).

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