Mission San Rafael Arcangel

  • 01 of 07

    Mission San Rafael

    San Rafael Mission
    Rigmarole/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    Mission San Rafael Arcangel was founded on December 14, 1817, by Father Vincente de Sarria. Mission San Rafael was named for the Angel of Healing. It was a good name for a mission created as a medical sub-mission of Mission San Francisco de Asis.

    Mission San Rafael is located in downtown San Rafael, and all that remains is a replica of the church building.

    Interesting Facts about Mission San Rafael

    • Mission San Rafael was originally built as a hospital
    • Mission San Rafael is one of the few missions that never had a quadrangle
    • Mission San Rafael was one of only a few missions to build ships
    • General Fremont used the mission buildings as his headquarters when he was taking over California for the United States

    Mission San Rafael Timeline

    1804 - Father de Sarria founds Mission San Rafael
    1822 - Full mission status granted
    1828 - 1,120 Indians at Mission San Rafael
    1834 - Secularized
    1844 - Mission San Rafael abandoned
    1949 - Modern chapel built at Mission San Rafael

    Where Is Mission San Rafael Located?

    1104 Fifth Avenue
    San Rafael, CA
    Mission Website and current hours

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  • 02 of 07

    History of Mission San Rafael: 1817 through the 1820s

    Statue of Father Serra at Mission San Rafael
    Rachel Titiriga/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    At Mission San Francisco de Asis in 1817, Indian converts were sick and dying from white men's diseases. They couldn't recover in the cold, damp climate. In 1817, the Fathers decided to build a hospital, an extension of the main mission, north of San Francisco in what is now Marin County, where the climate was warmer and drier.

    On December 14, 1817, three priests and Father Serra, the President of the Missions, raised a cross and performed the founding ceremony. It was named for the angel of healing, San Rafael Archangel.

    Father Luis Gil, who knew some medicine and spoke many native American languages, was put in charge of the tiny outpost. The Fathers wrapped the sick Indians in blankets, put them in boats and took them to San Rafael to recover.

    Early Years of Mission San Rafael Archangel

    By the end of the first year, Mission San Rafael's population grew to 300, including transfers from San Francisco and some local converts. Father Gil served two years and then turned the mission over to Father Juan Amoros.

    Father Amoros was an energetic priest who went out looking for converts. He was the only priest there, and a busy man who also grew the businesses - farming, ranching, sandal-making, blacksmithing, harness-making, carpentry and boat building. By 1822, Father Amoros converted so many of the local Miwok Indians that Mission San Rafael Archangel got full mission status on September 19, 1822.

    The next year, a controversy broke out over whether to close Mission San Rafael Archangel and build a new one at Sonoma. It looked like the history of Mission San Rafael Archangel would be short. Eventually, the church decided to have two missions north of San Francisco, and Mission San Rafael Archangel was saved. It grew to 1,140 converts by 1828.

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  • 03 of 07

    History of Mission San Rafael: 1830s to the Present Day

    Original Mission Bells at Mission San Rafael
    Ed Bierman/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Local Indian converts Chief Marin and his friend Quintin left the mission and caused a lot of trouble. They attacked Mission San Rafael Archangel in 1829, but the neophytes protected Father Amoros, formed a human shield and hid him in the marsh until the fighting was over.

    The buildings were damaged but quickly rebuilt. Later, both Chief Marin and Quintin returned as converts, and both are buried in the cemetery. Today, Marin County and nearby San Quentin prison are named for these two natives.

    Father Amoros died 1832. An inventory taken after his death lists 5,508 animals and a harvest that year of 17,905 bushels of wheat and 1,360 bushels of beans. Pears grown at San Rafael were highly desired in the area.

    In 1834, Zapatecan (Mexican) Franciscans took control. Father Jose Maria Mercado took over. He was a hasty and short-tempered man who caused a lot of trouble. There are many versions of exactly what happened, but all agree that 21 innocent Indians died because of his actions.

    Some say he saw unknown natives approaching, thought they were going to attack and ordered his people to attack them first. Others say he armed his neophytes and sent them out against a group who had scorned him. Another account says he accused some innocent Indians of stealing, then armed his converts to keep them from coming back for revenge/ They wrongly attacked some innocent visitors, thinking they were the ones he feared.

    Whatever the truth is, Mercado was sent away and punished.


    Mission San Rafael Archangel was secularized in 1834. General Vallejo (who was in charge of the Presidio in San Francisco) became the administrator. In the 17 years since it began, Mission San Rafael Archangel converted 1,873 Indians and raised 2,210 cattle; 4,000 sheep and 454 horses. In 1834, it was worth $15,025, mostly for its land.

    Vallejo transferred the livestock to his ranch and dug up grapevines and pear trees and moved them his estate. By 1840, there were only 150 Indians left.

    General Fremont used the buildings as his headquarters for a while when he was taking over California from Mexico for the United States.

    The site was abandoned 1844. What was left was sold for $8,000, a sale declared illegal a few months later when U. S. took over. A priest returned in 1847.

    The United States returned 6.5 acres of land to the church in 1855. By then the buildings were ruined. A new church was built next to the ruins in 1861. In 1870, the rest of the buildings were torn down to make room for the growing town. Eventually, all that was left was a single pear tree from the orchard.

    Mission San Rafael Archangel in the 20th Century

    In 1949, Monsignor Thomas Kennedy built a chapel on the site of the original hospital.

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  • 04 of 07

    Pictures of Mission San Rafael

    ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

    The Mission San Rafael picture above shows its cattle brand. It was drawn from samples on display at Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission San Antonio.

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  • 05 of 07

    Mission San Rafael Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

    Model of Mission San Rafael
    David Lofink/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    Very little is known about the buildings at Mission San Rafael. The first mission building was a simple building 42 feet x 87 feet with two stories, divided into rooms for the hospital, chapel, storage and father's quarters.

    The buildings at Mission San Rafael were completely destroyed after secularization. Few drawings or sketches remain today to give clues about what it was like. Because it was not built originally as a full mission, it did not have a quadrangle like many of the other missions, and the design was not changed when it got full mission status in 1822.

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  • 06 of 07

    Mission San Rafael Exterior Picture

    Exterior of Mission San Rafael
    Rachel Titiriga/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    The chapel building that stands in San Rafael today was built in 1949. Its walls hollow concrete plastered to look like adobe. It faces a different direction than the original, and there was little to help the builders make it like the original.  Four bells are some of the few objects that survive from the original mission, and three of them stand by the chapel door.

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  • 07 of 07

    Mission San Rafael Interior Picture

    Mission San Rafael Arcangel
    Richard Cummins / Getty Images

    The chapel is really more of a memorial to the mission than a reproduction because we know so little about the original. This is what it looks like inside.