San Gabriel Arcangel

San Gabriel Arcángel Key Facts

San Gabriel Arcángel was founded on September 8, 1771. The unique San Gabriel church features a Moorish “fortress-like” appearance. Mission San Gabriel has a full set of the Stations of the Cross painted by mission neophytes, and a large number of artifacts and historic items on display on the grounds.

General Information

San Gabriel Arcángel

September 8, 1771
Also Called:
Mission San Gabriel
Current Status:
Active Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
San Gabriel Arcángel was founded on September 8, 1771. The unique San Gabriel church features a Moorish “fortress-like” appearance. Mission San Gabriel has a full set of the Stations of the Cross painted by mission neophytes, and a large number of artifacts and historic items on display on the grounds.

Key Facts About This Mission

Named For

Gabriel, Holy Prince of Archangels

Founding Father Presidents

Fr. Junipero Junípero Serra, first Father President of the California missions 

Founding Missionaries

Fathers Pedro Benito Cambón and Angel Fernandez Somera y Balbuena

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Between 1775 and for the next 28 years, Fathers Antonio Cruzado and Miguel Sánchez worked together to make this one of the most successful of the California missions. Fr. José Zalvidea continued their work for another 20 years and is credited with introducing large-scale viticulture to California.

Indians Joining 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. 

Mission Site

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 quadrangle, with soldiers’ barracks, neophyte housing, warehouses, and other structures (forming a second incomplete quadrangle) extending out from the central compound. 

Water Source

The Río 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. 


San Gabriel Cattle Brand 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. 

San Gabriel Mission San Gabriel became a Parish Church after it was secularized in 1834 and was never abandoned. The area continued to be a center for cattle and sheep ranching 

Agricultural Output

Over its active life, San Gabriel was far more productive than any other mission in California harvesting over 353,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, lentils and garbanzos (chickpeas). 

Mission Church

San Gabriel Sketch 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. This style is similar to the Cathedral in Córdoba, Spain. 

Mission Bells

San Gabriel Bells 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. 

Mission Art

The Stations of the Cross are said to be authentic neophyte Indian paintings. They were exhibited at the 1893 World's Columbia Expedition in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. 

Significant Events

On March 22, 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza, who was trailblazing an overland route from Southern Arizona to California arrived at Mission San Gabriel en route to Monterey. The next year he stopped again at San Gabriel with a sizeable group of colonists. 

Toypurina Mural On October 25, 1785, an armed band of Tongva Indians from six or seven different villages were about to attack Mission San Gabriel but the padres and soldiers had been tipped off. Twenty conspirators were captured, including one of the leaders, a young woman shaman named Toypurina. The Toypurina Mural in Los Angeles honors her. 

Jedediah Smith at Mission San Gabriel The legendary mountain man Jedediah Smith, who was the first American to reach Alta California by land in 1826 initially arrived at Rancho de la Puente, an outpost of Mission San Gabriel, and was escorted to the mission where he met with Fr. Jose Sanchez. 



Year Returned to Catholic Church

1859 (decree signed by President James Buchanan).

Interesting Facts

In 1846, what remained of the mission estate was granted to 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.

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.

Vineyard 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. The area became an important center for wine in the 1880s. 

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. This historic structure as been restored. 

Additional Information
  • McGinty, A. (2001). Mission San Gabriel Arcángel. (PowerKids Press series on the Missions of California)
  • Sugranes, E. (1921). The History of Mission San Gabriel.
  • Engelhardt, Z. (1927). San Gabriel, and the Beginnings of Los Angeles. (The definitive early history of the “The Pride of the Missions”)

Discover More Information About California's Rich History

Browse the Mission Resource Store, where we have everything from maps to trading cards to help immerse you in the California Missions and more.

Browse Resources