The California Missions On-Line Project
Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo
Founded June 3, 1770

Founding of the mission

Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo was founded on June 3, 1770 by Father Junipero Serra, Presidente of the California Missions Chain. It was the 2nd mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. It was named for Saint Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan. In the summer of 1771, building was started by 40 Indians from Baja California Missions, 3 soldiers and 5 sailors. This was to be Father Serra's headquarters in California.

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Local Indians
Click here to see a video of the Mission Cemetery
Includes a memorial to the over 200 Indians buried in the cemetery and also the grave of Sir Harry Downie

The Eslenes Indians who lived near the mission were friendly and willing to help the padres with the mission. The Indians were trained as plowmen, shepherds, cattle herders, blacksmiths, and carpenters. They worked at making adobe bricks, roof tiles and tools needed to build the mission. In 1794, the Indian population reached 927, but by 1823 the total had dwindled to 381. Between 1770 and 1836, over 4,000 Indians were baptized at the Mission.

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Economy of the mission
Click here to see a video Inside some the Mission rooms

The economy at Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo was similar to the other missions 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. In the beginning, the mission relied on bear meat from Mission San Antonio de Padua and supplies brought by ship from Mission San Diego de Alcala. In 1774, supplies ran low and the mission people almost died. In 1775 the harvest was 4 times greater, and with Juan Bautista de Anza bringing supplies by land, they no longer had to rely on ship for supplies. By 1794, there was an abundance of crops and the mission was prosperous.

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The community
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Quadrangle
Includes a marker on the original site of the mission's founding.

Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo was busy from the beginning. It was near Monterey, which would soon become the capital of California. It was also the headquarters for all of the California Missions and had many visitors.

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After 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. The church and quadrangle fell into ruin during this time.

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It was not until 1884 that Father Angel Casanova undertook the work of saving this historic landmark. In 1931, Msgr. Philip Scher appointed Harry Downie to be curator in charge of mission restoration. Two years later Carmel Mission became an independent parish. In 1961, the Mission was honored and designated as a Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII.

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Current use
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Basilica

Today Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo is one of the most popular tourist sites in all of California. It is widely recognised as the head of the mission chain which was responsible for the settlement of Alta California. It is a place of pilgrimage for visitors from all over the world. In September 1987, Pope John Paul II visited the mission as part of his U.S. tour. It is also a very busy and active parish church.

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Graphic tour
Click below to see a video Inside the Mission Church
Includes the final resting places of the Padres Junipero Serra, Juan Crespi and Fermin Lasuen.
Click here to see a video Inside Father Serra's room at the Mission

Father Junipero Serra was a man true to his vow of poverty. When Father Junipero Serra died on August 28, 1784, his only possessions were a board cot, a blanket, one table, one chair, a chest, a candlestick, and a gourd. Nothing else. He is buried in the Mission sanctuary along with Fathers Juan Crespi and Fermin Lasuen. In 1985, Pope John Paul II declared Junipero Serra venerable and in 1988 he was beatified in recognition of his heroic virtues. He is one of the most important figures in the history of California and the United States of America.

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Mission Quiz

Objective: answer 7 questions correctly. JavaScript required!

1. Who was the founder of Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo?

Juan Crespi
Gaspar de Portola
Junipero Serra
Sebastian Vizcaino

2. Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo was founded....?

June 3, 1770
September 21, 1769
April 21, 1782
June 14, 1804

3. What Indian Tribe was in the area of the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission?


4. Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is know as...?

King of the Missions
Headquarters of the Mission Chain
Princess of the Missions
Queen of the Missions

5. Who did the actual building of the missions?

construction companies
the priests
the soldiers
the local Indians

6. What happened to the missions in 1834?

They opened
The Indians took over

7. San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is the only mission...?

that has been completely rebuilt
without a church
to be the home of Junipero Serra
to be declared a saint

8. Who brought supplies to the mission by land?

Fermin Lasuen
Gaspar de Portola
Juan Bautista de Anza

9. What happened in 1784?

An earthquake
The Mission became a parish
The mission was restored
Father Junipero Serra died

10. What did Abraham Lincoln agree to in 1863?

Formally return the Mission lands to the Church
Run for President of the United States
Visit the San Antonio de Padua Mission
force the Indians to leave the Mission

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Other Carmel sites:

California Mission Internet Trail

The Spanish Missions of California

California Missions Interactive Homepage

California Missions

California Missions

Carmel Mission

This project written by Rob Garretson in partial fulfilment of the Master's of Arts Degree from Cal Poly Pomona

Please send questions and/or comments to Mr. Garretson

This page last updated on February 28, 2015