Misión San Gabriel Arcángel, 1770

By Levi Clancy for לוי on

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The Spanish first landed in California during the 16th century, but it took until 1770 for the Spanish to establish the San Gabriel Mission in the valley.

The natives were renamed Gabrieleno Indians by Father Serra, converted to Catholicism and enlisted to grow crops and tend cattle for the mission. While the Mission seized more and more land, the Gabrielenos' deaths doubled their births and they were rapidly extinguished by dysentery, tuberculosis and venereal disease.

In the 1830's the missions and their lands were seized by Mexico and partitioned into ranches. Three of these ranches constitute Pasadena: Rancho San Pasqual, Rancho San Rafael and Rancho Santa Anita.

1771 Sept 8San Gabriel Mission established as fourth mission by Fathers Pedro Benito Cambon and Angel Fernandez de la Somera in nearby Montebello by the Rio Hondo River. However, in 1775 it was moved to its current location. The cross was first installed in 1959, and the bell was cast and placed here on Aug 15 1906 by the Los Angeles section of El Camino Real Association.
1774Juan Bautista de Anza arrived and established a formal overland route from Mexico City to California.
Old Spanish Trail1830 JanAntonio Armijo arrived at Misión San Gabriel from Santa Fé, and thus communication and trade was established between New Mexico and California. Thus Misión San Gabriel became a focal point of a bustling route.
1832California ceded to Mexico by Spain
1834Governor Pio Peco secularizes Misión San Gabriel -- it was by his edicts of Secularization that missions lost their great landholdings. Beginning of the short Rancho Period. Ranchos in San Gabriel Valley would include San Pasqual, San Rafael and Santa Anita.
1834Dona Eulalia Perez de Guillen gets gift of 3½ leagues of land from Father Zalvidea, head priest of San Gabriel Mission. She gets title on Easter Sunday and calls it El Rincon de San Pascual.
1852California is granted statehood.
1859Rancho San Pascual bought by Benjamin Wilson and John Griffin.
1874The Catholic Church was granted control of just 13 acres of Misión San Gabriel's land, including the church.

Mission Grounds

Peace Garden with a hand-made tile painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. © L M Clancy
Campo Santo Cemetery (established 1778)

First consecrated in 1778, this is the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles County. The walls surrounding it were built in 1940 on original foundations. There are 6,000 Gabrieleno Tonga San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians buried here. It was rededicated in 1939.

The cemetery also holds Claretian Missionary Priests and Brothers who have served at the Mission. It has an arbor with a grapevine planted in 1925.

Church (built 1791-1805)

The church was built of cut stone to the windows, then burnt brick and mortar to the roof. The nave is 140' long, 27' wide and 30' high. The church was designed by Father Antonio Cruzado, who was born and raised in Cordova, Spain. The Moorish influence is evidenced by the buttressed walls, vaulted roof and fortress-like design. The walls are original, four feet thick, seven at the buttresses.

What remains of the bell tower is visible to the left of the entrance facing Camp Santo Cemetery. At the very back of the church is the choir loft. Facing the front, the first door on the left is the original entrance but was closed until the seismic retrofit was completed in 1993. It has its original pulpit.

The original vaulted roof and ceiling was finished in 1801, but was damaged in an 1804 earthquake. Its replacement was flat brick-and-mortar, finished in 1808 but damaged in an 1812 earthquake (which also destroyed the bell tower). A third roof, pitched with tiles, was added in 1886.

The present roof is made of cedar shingles and was installed in 1993 on recommendation of the State Office of Historical preservation, after the 1987 Whittier Narrows Earthquake.

Choir LoftThe loft and its support beams are original.
ReredosThe main altar was made in Mexico City and brought to the Mission in the 1790s. The wooden polychrome statues were hand-carved in Spain but during the 1812 earthquake they and the crucifix fell and broke into pieces. Their repair was complete in 1813, then restored again in 1993.
Our Lady of SorrowsThe founding missionaries had journeyed from San Diego were deliberating the exact site for the mission. Just then, a group of Tongva Indians approached to drive them away. One of the priests took out the painting of Our Lady of Sorrows and spread it on the ground for the Indians to see. They were so impressed with the painting's beauty that they offered signs of friendship.
BaptistryWalls, floor and vaulted ceiling are all original. So is the chest of drawers, assembled entirely via dovetails; the hand-hammered copper baptismal font; and the silver baptismal shell, donated in 1771 by Spanish king Charles III, is still used today.
Cemetery (1939 - )

Since 1939 the cemetery has been used for burial of padres and brethren of Misión San Gabriel. However, seven of the early Franciscan fathers are interred in front of the altar in the chapel, including Father Francisco Dumetz.

Museum Building (built 1812)

Made of adobe brick with a tiled roof and almost 300 feet long. Originally it was a series of rooms: weaving room; granary; carpenter shops; sleeping quarters for the mission fathers. Now it contains various books, paintings, utensils and furniture.


The quadrangle is paved with original baked floor tiles, which were layed starting in 1803 and quickly covered 300x600 feet.

GrapevineThe grapevine was planted about 1775.
Olive TreesThe two oldest olive trees were planted about 1860.
CisternIt is original, fifteen feet deep, but now filled with soil to protect curious children.
Peace Garden

Upon entering the Mission grounds via the gift shop, is the Peace Garden. It includes a hand-made tile picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the anchor off of the mission's Guadalupe Ship; a cannon found in a nearby river after a 1914 flood; and a fountain made in the 1940s by Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West.

Court of Mission Models

There are 21 mission models made in the 1930s by Claretian Missionaries, and a sun dial with 21 native plants.

Aqueduct Plaza

The aqueduct piped water via crude fired-clay pipes to the laundry, kitchen and other areas. The four large cisterns or boilers were soap and tallow vats: they have a total capacity of 2,686 gallons. Edges had a lining of sheet iron which was 8 to 10 inches thick. At one time the mission supplied soap and candles to most of the other missions.

There are tanks probably used for laundry and for tanning hides, though in 1809 a tannery was built.

La Casa Vieja de Lopez (circa 1806)

El Molino Viejo


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