Mission Dolores

San Francisco de Asís Key Facts

San Francisco de Asís was founded on October 9, 1776. The mission’s iconic church is the oldest intact building in San Francisco.  Popularly called Mission Dolores, the chapel contains some of the most sophisticated religious art in the mission chain. The cemetery is a well-landscaped oasis in the middle of a busy city.

General Information

San Francisco de Asís

Founded:
October 9, 1776
Also Called:
Mission Dolores
Current Status:
The old mission chapel is part of the Basilica Parish of Mission Dolores. The basilica, which towers over the original mission, was dedicated in 1918. Basilica status was granted in 1952.
Summary:
San Francisco de Asís was founded on October 9, 1776. The mission’s iconic church is the oldest intact building in San Francisco.  Popularly called Mission Dolores, the chapel contains some of the most sophisticated religious art in the mission chain. The cemetery is a well-landscaped oasis in the middle of a busy city.

Key Facts About This Mission

Background

San Francisco de Asis Discovery The Spanish became aware of the importance of San Francisco and its harbor after they discovered (and named) the Bay of San Francisco in 1769. 

Named For

Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order

Founding Father President

Fr. Junípero Serra Fr. Junípero Serra 

Founding Missionaries

Frs. Pedro Cambón and Francisco Palóu. 

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Fr. Francisco Palóu, who was Fr. Serra’s Confessor, and who served twice as temporary Father-President of all of the missions. 

Fr. Palóu was located at this mission from 1776 until 1785, when he returned to the Apostolic College of San Fernando in Mexico City. 

Indians Joining Mission

The Native Americans in the area were Ohlone. Indians from other groups were recruited or taken into the mission, including members of the Bay Miwok, Coast Miwok, and Patwin tribes. The mission was founded at the village of Chutchui. 

​​​​​​Indians Game A marvelous drawing of Indians playing a stick game outside of the mission was done by Expedition Artist Louis Choris.  

Mission Site

Near San Francisco Bay, which the Spanish had just begun to explore. (Juan Manuel de Ayala sailed into the Bay in San Carlos on August 5, 1775). 

The mission is now located about a half mile from the original site, at present-day 16th and Dolores Streets. 

Layout

Traditional quadrangle, completed in 1798. 

Water Source

Dolores Lake and a stream that ran by the mission, which the Spanish named Arroyo de Nuestra Señora de los Dolores. 

Population

In 1783, after more than a decade in service, the mission had only 215 neophytes. 

During the missions peak years, from 1801 – 1821, the population ranged between 1000-1200 with the peak population of 1,251 achieved in 1820. 

The population declined sharply in the later years to 204 in 1832. The mission was plagued by disease and many of the Indians left. 

Livestock

San Francisco de Asis Cattle BrandSan Francisco de Asís built its livestock herd from 826 head to over 20,000 animals in the peak years 1803 - 1814. In 1832, just before secularization in 1834, the herd population was 9,518. 

Agricultural Output

None of the Bay area missions achieved significant agriculture production except Missions Santa Clara and San José (which ranked 2nd in the entire chain). 

Over the years 1782-1832, Mission Dolores harvested 87,000 bushels of grain and produce, placing the mission in the lower third of mission producers. Wheat, barley, corn, beans, and peas were the primary crops. 

Mission Church

The small chapel (114' long by 22' wide) was dedicated on August 2, 1791. It has survived earthquakes, fires and other calamities. 

Bull Fight A drawing of Mission Dolores made by Edward Vischer in 1782 shows how the mission looked in the mission era. The artist depicts a bull fight taking place at the mission during one of the many feast days that were celebrated.  

Mission Dolores and Gothic Revival Church In 1918 all the mission buildings except the historic chapel were demolished and a large Gothic-Revival-style church constructed. 

San Fransisco de Asis front The mission chapel was restored in 1917 and received a complete restoration and retrofit in 1990 and 1994. 

Mission Bells

The three original bells hang on rawhide thongs above the entranceway, in a narrow niche. They are dedicated to San Francisco, San José, and San Martín. The bells are still in use. 

Mission Art

The richly gilded baroque altar and reredos in the sanctuary of the church are stunning. The art is among the most sophisticated in the mission chain. 

Significant Events

The hospital asistencia of San Rafael, subsequently made a full mission, was established 15 miles north of Mission Dolores in 1817. Hundreds of neophytes transferred there to regain their health. 

Secularized

1834

Year Returned to Catholic Church

1857

Interesting Facts

The mission church is the oldest intact building in San Francisco.

Mission Dolores survived the great fire and earthquake of 1906.

In the movie Vertigo, Jimmy Stewart, as detective Scottie Ferguson, followed Kim Novak (the central character, Madeleine Elster) through Mission Dolores and into the cemetery.

Some 36,000 adobe bricks were employed in the construction of the Dolores church.

Additional Information
  • Surhone, L.M., Tennoe, M.T., & Henssonow, S.F. San Francisco De Asis Mission Church. (Print-on-demand of a classic)
  • Boule, M.N. (1988). The Missions: Mission San Francisco De Asís (California Heritage Series).
  • Engelhardt, Z. (1924). San Francisco or Mission Dolores. (The definitive early history of the mission)

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