Mission San Miguel

San Miguel Arcángel Key Facts

San Miguel Arcángel was founded on July 25, 1797. This mission’s historic church (completed in 1818) has rich vibrantly painted fresco murals. A picturesque colonnade leads to the church. San Miguel’s spacious grounds with ancient gate ways and dilapidated adobe walls make this one of the most authentic-looking of the California missions.

General Information

San Miguel Arcángel

Founded:
July 25, 1797
Also Called:
Mission San Miguel
Current Status:
Parish Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey, and post-mission period Franciscan novitiate since 1928-29).
Summary:
San Miguel Arcángel was founded on July 25, 1797. This mission’s historic church (completed in 1818) has rich vibrantly painted fresco murals. A picturesque colonnade leads to the church. San Miguel’s spacious grounds with ancient gate ways and dilapidated adobe walls make this one of the most authentic-looking of the California missions.

Key Facts About This Mission

Named For

Saint Michael the Archangel

Founding Father President

Fr. Lasuen Fr. Fermín Francisco de Lasuén 

Founding Missionaries

Frs. Antonio de la Concepción Horra and Buenaventura Sitjar

Prominent Missionary Leaders

Fr. Luis Antonio Martínez, a jovial and generous man, and an effective manager led the mission for thirty-four years.

Indians Joining Mission

San Miguel was the second mission founded in the land of the Salinan people. The neophytes at this mission were referred to as Migueleños. 

Mission Site

About halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles in the town that developed around the mission. The site was called Valica by the Saliman, and Paraje de los Pozos by the Spanish. It was surrounded by level land that was suitable for growing wheat.

Layout

By 1826 the quadrangle measured 500’ on each side. The entire complex extended over six acres.

Water Source

There was ample water on the site from the San Miguel River and from several springs in the vicinity.

Population

Highest recorded was 1,076 in 1814. There were still 658 neophytes at San Miguel in 1832, the last year for which there are records.

Livestock

San Miguel Cattle Brand San Miguel had a sizeable livestock herd, which averaged 22,000 head between 1811 and 1824. In the peak year 1821, the mission had over 24,000 animals, including 9,000 cattle and 13,500 sheep. 

Agricultural Output

Over the years 1782 - 1832, San Miguel produced 92,000 bushels of wheat, barley, corn, beans, and peas. There was a large orchard to the east of the mission quadrangle where many types of fruit were grown.

Mission Church

San Miguel Church Interior The present church, begun in 1816 under the direction of Fr. Juan Martín, was completed in 1818. The church reredos have a statue of patron Saint Michael, topped by the all=seeing eye of God. 

A picturesque colonnade, which leads to the church, contains twelve arches of different sizes and shapes, unique among the California missions. 

Mission Bells

San Miguel Bell Post and Corridor Mission San Miguel never had a traditional bell tower. In the mission-era, bells were hung from a wooden beam in one of the archways. The bell which currently hangs there was cast in Mexico City in 1800. 

Lady by bell In early 1900 there was a small wooden Bell Rack erected outside the mission, but this was removed when the current full-scale Bell Tower was erected inside the mission cemetery. This tower houses three bells, the largest of which weighs 2,000 pounds and was recast in 1888 from six cracked and broken bells donated by other missions. This Bell Tower was designed and built in mid 1930s by Jess Crettoll, a stonemason from Switzerland. The large bell is used to sound the Angelus. 

San Miguel Welcome Tower There is another bell tower at San Miguel, a brick campanario located on the south end of the mission property. The bells which hang in it are not real, but cast in cement. Jess Crettoll's oldest son, Jesse Crettoll, built this bell tower in the 1950s. 

Mission Art

The interior of the San Miguel church is rich in vibrantly painted murals considered the best preserved and most authentic in the mission chain. The mission Indians, under the direction of the artist, rancher, and Spanish diplomat Esteban Carlos Munras of Monterey, completed the Neoclassical decor in 1820-21.

Significant Event(s)

A severe earthquake on December 22, 2003, caused extensive damage to the mission, which is considered one of the eleven most endangered places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. 

After an extensive restoration, the church was reopened in September 2009, and masses are now being held there. Further work is required to fully restore all of the art and artifacts, and the entire complex.

Secularized

1834

Year Returned to Catholic Church

1859

Interesting Facts

The mission buildings were sold in 1845 and between 1848-1870 portions rented for a store, dance hall, offices and a saloon. 

The fountain in front of the mission is not original (it was built in the 1940s) but harmonizes well with the rest of the mission. The design was adapted from the fountain at Mission Santa Barbara.

An original mission wine vat is located in a room at the south end of the convent that served as a temporary chapel when the 2003 earthquake closed the church.

Additional Information
  • Edgar, K.J. and N.A. (2004). Mission of San Miguel Arcángel. (PowerKids Press, Missions of California Series)
  • Roberts. H.M. (1948). The Wishing Chair: A Tale of Mission San Miguel. Illustrated by Muriel Lawrence (Facsimile editions now available)
  • Iversen. E.C. (1940). Mission San Miguel Archangel. 

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