The San Gabriel Mission: A Brief History
The San Gabriel Mission is a historic Catholic mission located in the city of San Gabriel, California. Founded in 1771, it was the fourth of twenty-one missions established by Spanish missionaries in California. Today, the mission is a National Historic Landmark and a popular tourist destination. Let’s take a look at its history.
The Founding of the Mission
Father Junipero Serra, Founder of the California Missions The San Gabriel Mission was founded on September 8, 1771, by Father Junipero Serra, a Spanish Franciscan missionary. Father Serra had previously established three other missions in California: San Diego (1769), Monterey (1770), and San Carlos Borromeo (1770). The San Gabriel Mission was originally named “La Misión del Glorioso Predicador San Gabriel Arcángel” but later came to be known simply as “San Gabriel.”
The purpose of the mission was twofold: to spread Christianity among the native population and to serve as a base for exploring and colonizing the surrounding area. To that end, a small adobe structure was built to serve as a church, while additional buildings were constructed to house soldiers, artisans, and farmers. Work on the mission continued throughout the 1770s, and by 1776 it had grown to encompass some 587 acres.
Life at the Mission
Native Americans at work at the San Gabriel mission the majority of the Native Americans living in the vicinity of the San Gabriel Mission were members of the Tongva tribe. They lived in small villages scattered throughout the area and subsisted primarily on hunting and gathering.
When they first encountered Spanish missionaries, many Tongva were distrustful and reluctant to convert to Christianity. However, over time, some Tongva came to see the benefits of life at the mission. These included access to food and shelter, protection from rival tribes, and instruction in European agriculture and crafts. As a result, many Tongva chose to live permanently at the mission or work there on a seasonal basis.
The Decline of the Mission
Like all of the other missions founded by Father Serra, the San Gabriel Mission fell into decline after Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. It was secularized—that is, taken out of Catholic Church control—in 1834. Over time, many of its buildings fell into disrepair or were simply abandoned. In 1925, however, restoration efforts began with the goal of returning the mission to its former glory. Today, it is once again an active place of worship as well as a popular tourist destination.
The San Gabriel Mission is a fascinating piece of California history. Founded in 1771 by Father Junipero Serra, it served as an important center for Christianization and colonization for over sixty years. Though it fell into decline after Mexico’s independence from Spain, today it has been restored to its former glory and is once again an active place of worship and a popular tourist destination. If you’re ever in Southern California, be sure to check it out!