The California Missions On-Line Project
Mission San Rafael Arcangel
Founded December 14, 1817

Founding of the mission

Mission San Rafael Arcangel was founded on December 14, 1817 by Father Vicente de Sarria. It was the 20th mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. It was named for Saint Raphael, the angel of healing. The mission was started as an asistencia or branch of the Mission San Francisco de Asis. It was established as a hospital to treat the sick Indians from Mission San Francisco de Asis. The weather was much better here and helped the Indians to get better. It was never intended to be a full mission but, the mission grew and it was granted full mission status on October 19, 1822.

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Local Indians
Click here to see a video of the Mission cemetery

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.

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Economy of the mission

The economy of the missions were 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 year when Father Amoros died, 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.

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The community
Click here to see a video of the Mission grounds

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. In the later years at the mission there were many difficulties. There was much fighting between the soldiers and the Indians and the padres. Many Indians were needlessly killed in battles at this mission. 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.

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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. 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.

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In 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.

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Current use

Today the Mission San Rafael Arcangel sits next to the parish church of St. Raphael. It is located on the site of the original hospital established by Father Gil. It is open to visitors and has a small museum and gift shop.

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Graphic tour
Click below to see a video Inside the Mission Church
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Mission Quiz

Objective: answer 7 questions correctly. JavaScript required!

1. Who was the founder of Mission San Rafael Arcangel?

Junipero Serra
Gaspar de Portola
Vicente de Sarria
Sebastian Vizcaino

2. Mission San Rafael Arcangel was founded....?

December 14, 1817
September 21, 1769
April 21, 1782
June 14, 1804

3. What Indian Tribe was in the area of the San Rafael Arcangel Mission?


4. Mission San Rafael Arcangel was originally built as a...?

small church

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 Rafael Arcangel is the only mission...?

that has been completely rebuilt
without a church
without a quadrangle
with a bell tower

8. What is an asistencia?

a hospital
a chapel
a branch of a mission
a large basilica

9. What happened in 1846?

An earthquake
The Gold Rush began
California became a state
Mission San Rafael Arcangel was sold for $8,000

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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The Mission Page | The Assessment Page |Main Page

Other San Luis Obispo sites:

California Mission Internet Trail

The Spanish Missions of California

California Missions Interactive Homepage

California Missions

California Mission - History and Facts

California Missions

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