Twentieth Mission Date Founded: December 14, 1817 Mission Status Granted: October 19, 1822 Founder: Father Vicente de Sarria Named for: Arcangel Rafael, the angel of bodily healing Location: 1104 Fifth Avenue San Rafael, CA Directions: Take the Central San Rafael exit off Highway 101 and follow the signs to the mission located at 1104 Fifth Avenue. On foot from the San Rafael Main Transit station, walk three blocks north, turn west on Fifth Avenue and walk approximately five blocks to the mission. Contact Information: (415) 456-3016 ———————— Mission San Rafael began as a hospital serving the sick from Mission Dolores.
Later it became a thriving Mission on its own. HistoryFor many years, Mission San Francisco de Assis had been plagued by the consequences of the damp and foggy weather which dominated the area. The Indians, especially after being exposed to a number of diseases, were inclined to waste away as the unfavorable weather retarded their recovery. Mission San Rafael, second most northerly on the El Camino Real and second to the last to be found, began its existence as an “assistance”, or helper mission to Mission Dolores in San Francisco.
Mission Dolores had the highest death rate of any mission at that time. It was believed that the dryer climate of the North Bay would be a better place for sick people. Finding a suitable spot was not an easy task, as the spiritual welfare of the Indians at Mission Dolores was also a cause for concern. Many Indians who came to Mission Dolores from Marin only to return home ill, had died without benefits of the sacraments. Finally, the Father Prefect, Sarra, was offered a plan for moving the weaker and more unhealthy neophytes to the warmer hill climate on the sunny north side of the bay. At first, Fr. Sarra did not feel that his charges would be able to withstand the temptation of the pagan rancherias, many of which were located In the wilderness of the northern bayside region, and he was inclined to delay his decision. However, when Fr. Luis Gil volunteered to preside over the proposed hospital Asistencia in present day Marin County, the father prefect gave his ready approval, for Fr. Gil was versed in medical science. Establishment of Mission San Rafael ArcangelMission San Rafael Arcangel was founded on December 14, 1817, by Father Vicente de Sarria under the patronage of San Rafael Arcngel, the angel of bodily healing. It was the 20th mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. The mission started as an Asistencia hospital to treat the sick Indians from Mission San Francisco de Assis. A number of the invalid Indians were transferred to the new settlement and, with a handful of converts attracted from the vicinity, they formed a neophyte community. By the end of the first year, the Asistencia had a population of over 300. Before long, the little colony at San Rafael was a healthy community in which more than 1,000 neophytes were living. On October 19, 1822, San Rafael was declared independent of Mission Dolores and raised to full mission stature. The outward appearance of the new settlement was far less imposing than the parent mission across the bay. It was a plain building, approximately 40 by 90 feet in floor area, divided rather casually into a number of rooms which served as a hospital, chapel, storeroom, and monastery. The records of conversions, baptisms, marriages, deaths and the like were kept at the parent Mission Dolores in San Francisco, and the residents of San Rafael Mission were counted as part of the population of Mission Dolores. In 1822 when the Asistencia became a full mission, there was still no quadrangle built. In fact, Mission San Rafael is one the few mission where no quadrangle was ever built. Father Gil, himself somewhat capable in the science of medicine, remained as the director of the hospital community for two years. At the end of that time, management of the station was placed in the hands of Fr. Juan Amoros. The new padre was a man of forceful character whose zealous and energetic example turned the neophytes to a more industrious way of life. Often he went far into the wilderness in his search for new converts, and, nearly as often, he would bring back one or two. He taught them how to build boats in the European manner and he built a water clock with his own hands. This made Mission San Rafael the only mission with a water clock. The clock remained functional years after Father Juan’s death. Father Juan’s untiring efforts brought new energy to the assistance and soon the community numbered more than one thousand, only a small minority of them being the sick brought from San Francisco. As a result of the growth in population and activity Mission, San Rafael Archangel was raised to full mission status on October 19, 1822. Mission LifeThe proud new mission increased its efforts to produce prosperity in keeping with its rise in importance. The number of livestock grew to very respectable proportions and the areas under cultivation increased. San Rafael soon was noted for the quality of its peers. Unfortunately, the mission acquired its independence near the end of the mission period, just in time to face the full force of the political and social disturbances which were about to sweep it away. The Indians had a difficult beginning at the mission. Most of them were there as sick patients to be healed by the hospital. Many Indians were cured under the care of Father Luis Gil who took care of them and ran the hospital at the Asistencia. Father Juan Amoros taught the Indians the trades. They became expert boatbuilders, blacksmiths, cowboys, carpenters, and weavers. Many of the local Miwok Indians came to live at the mission. By 1828, there were 1,140 Indians living at the mission. Chief Marin was a mission Indian who turned against the mission and caused trouble for the mission with his friend Quintin. Later, he came back to life at the mission. The county of Marin is named after him and the prison San Quentin is named after his friend. They are both buried in the cemetery at the mission. The economy of the missions was similar to each other in that they planted crops of wheat and corn. They also planted vineyards and raised cattle and sheep. The agriculture was needed not only to maintain the mission community and the nearby Indians but was used for trade and served to visitors to the mission. Although started as an Asistencia and hospital, Mission San Rafael Arcangel grew to be a self-supporting full mission. In 1828 the mission had its largest number of animals; 5,508. The wheat crop was 17,905 bushels and the bean crop was 1,360 bushels. The Mission San Rafael Arcangel’s 17 years were too short. However, during those years it converted 1,873 Indians, raised 2,210 cattle, 4,000 sheep and 454 horses. In 1823 Fr. Amoros became involved in a controversy with Fr. Altimira of Dolores over the question of abolishing both San Rafael and San Francisco in favor of a new mission at Sonoma. The future looked bleak for the little settlement at San Rafael until it was decided to maintain missions at all three locations. About a year after it was granted full Mission status, it seemed that the young Mission San Rafael was to enjoy only a brief existence, as the plan was proposed to close both Mission Dolores and Mission San Rafael in favor of a new mission at Sonoma. But the Mission San Rafael was saved by the decision to maintain missions at all three locations. Mission San Rafael continued to grow from this time on, but unfortunately, its growth was taking place near the end of the mission period. At the end of 13 years of unrelenting labor in behalf of his Indian converts and his religious ideals, Fr. Amoras passed away. It was the year 1832 when his weeping charges laid him to rest and shortly thereafter the mission was transferred to the Zacatecan Franciscans and placed in the charge of a new padre. The new padre, Fr. Jos© Mercado, was a man of violent temperament, and sensitive to any act of interference with his right to rule over the Indians of the mission. It was not long before he was engaged in a headlong conflict with General Mariano Vallejo, the commandant of the San Francisco Presidio who was inclined to use his position to inject himself into the affairs of all the missions in the area. Unhappily for Fr. Mercado, his uncompromising nature led him into other violent excesses and the general, who was a good deal more clever than the friar, gathered up a good case against his enemy. Fr. Mercado was not a man to trifle with insubordinate Indians. He organized and armed a band of his neophytes and sent them against a group of savages who had scorned his efforts to convert them. The neophytes fell upon the unarmed band and killed a large number. This act, which had the effect of arousing the out-lying tribes against all the whites, drew strong protests from the Spanish in the area. Vallejo brought Fr. Mercado’s action to the attention of Governor Figueroa, who was understandably indignant and secured the removal of Fr. Mercado from the mission. SecularizationAfter Mexico won its independence from Spain, it found that it could no longer afford to keep the missions running as Spain had done. In 1834, Mexico decided to end the mission system and sell all of the lands. They offered the lands to the Indians who did not want the lands or could not come up with the purchase price. The lands were divided into smaller Ranchos and sold to Mexican citizens who were helpful during the war for independence. After nearly 30 years, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church. Although some of the missions had already been returned to the church, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act declaring that all of the 21 missions in the California mission chain would become the property of the Catholic Church and have remained so since that time. Mission San Rafael Arcangel was one of the first missions to turned over to the Mexican Government in 1833. In 1840, there were 150 Indians still at the mission. By 1844, Mission San Rafael Arcangel was left abandoned. What was left of the empty buildings was sold for $8,000 in 1846. The mission was used by John Fremont as his headquarters during the battles to make California a United States territory. San Rafael was the first mission to be secularized and the occasion followed hard upon the heels of Fr. Mercado’s departure. In view of his earlier actions, it can hardly be a coincidence that Vallejo turned up as the official administrator. It is a fact, however, that he wasted no time in settling the mission accounts. All livestock was immediately transferred to his own great ranchos, and this was followed by equipment and supplies. Even the vines and fruit trees were taken up and replanted on Vallejo property. The job was a big one requiring a good deal of labor. Therefore, as it was their mission, Vallejo hired the Indians to dismantle their own mission! Actually, the general was capable of many kindnesses. After he became the acknowledged ruler of the area north of San Jos©, he was often gracious and even generous to his friends the Americans or other foreigners who looked to him for land. He was concerned for the welfare of the men in his army and favored their advancement into the growing ranks of new landowners. In searching for the reason why Vallejo was such a bitter enemy of the missions, it is well to remember that he was exceedingly ambitious and that, under Spanish law, the missions held their lands in trust for the converted Indians. He was an enemy of the Indians because they had the land; he was an enemy of the Church because the church supported the idea of Indian possession. Men like Vallejo were either unable or unwilling to spend the long years of labor required to build up the land. The riches existing in California at the time of their arrival were the product of the mission system. The only way they could acquire this wealth quickly was to take it from the missions. The Mexican secularization act, without the provisos which protected the Indians, was a simple solution of their problems, so Vallejo and the others adopted it. The real tragedy of the secularization program, however, lies in the fact that, with rare exceptions such as Vallejo, these men did not know what to do with the mission lands once they had obtained them. Decline and RebirthIn 1847, a priest was once again living at the mission. A new parish church was built near the old chapel ruins in 1861. In 1870, the rest of the ruins were removed to make room for the city of San Rafael. All that was left of the mission was a single pear tree form the old mission orchard. In 1949, Msgr. Thomas Kennedy rebuilt and restored the chapel at the mission. Mission San Rafael Arcangel was abandoned and all but forgotten for years, its memory alive only in the records. The adobe buildings were demolished in 1861. In 1909 the Native Sons of the Golden West erected a mission bell sign at the site, and in 1949 a replica of the original mission was constructed adjacent to the parish church of St. Raphael in the City of San Rafael, on the approximate site of the hospital mission established by Father Gil. Today Mission San Rafael Arcangel is a part of the active parish of Saint Raphael Catholic Church. Masses are held daily in the mission chapel and on Sunday masses can be heard in three different languages: English, Spanish and Vietnamese. There is also a large elementary and middle school on the former mission site. ArchaeologyHow, exactly, did the original Mission San Rafael Archangel building look? How accurate is the replica built on the mission site? These are not easy questions to answer, and therein lies “the Mystery of the San Rafael Mission.” for between the dates of the construction of the adobe mission buildings (which began the spring following the founding on December 14, 1817, and continued over a 15-year period) until the razing of those structures in 1861, no one sketched or painted those buildings. Fortunately, years later, an elderly man made sketches of what he could remember of Mission San Rafael Arcangel. The man was General Mariano Vallejo. General Vallejo drew the mission at the request of his friend Edward Visher. The two men, each 70 years old, worked over the details which resulted in the earliest sketch of the missing structures. Against the mission hill, on an elevation facing San Pablo Bay, was the two-story adobe mission church, surmounted by a cross. Over its entrance was a square window supported by redwood beams; above that, a triangular window to air the granary. Attached to the right of the church was the priest’s building. Ten columns supported the covered corridor, along which opened 14 windows and a door. The roof of the church was made of tile. There was a bell suspended from an L-shaped post. On the lower southern slope of the hill, to the left and east, several of the tile-roofed houses for the Indians could be seen, as well as one guardhouse facing south. Many of the things which made this site so good for a mission are gone today. There were two small streams fed by nearby springs giving lots of fresh water. Mudflats in what is now downtown San Rafael were home to ducks, an important food source in early California At the turn of the century, a successful postcard manufacturer was responsible for the most widely accepted pictorial version of Mission San Rafael. It was created on order, entirely out of one man’s imagination–that of San Francisco born Felix Adrian Raynaud–who was later to become a resident of nearby San Anselmo. According to the architects, it was this postcard of Raynaud which was used as one of the guides for the design of the $85,000 mission replica constructed in 1949 in San Rafael. It seems a miracle that the present reproduction looks as much like General Vallejo’s picture as it does. The main differences seem to relate to the plainness of the buildings. The Spanish kept excellent records. From these, we know that no stones were brought in to do the stonework we see on the Mission today.