Mission San Rafael Arcangel

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. It was named for Saint Raphael, 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 one of the few missions that never had a quadrangle and one of only a few missions that built ships.

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

How to Get to Mission San Rafael

The chapel is in downtown San Rafael at 1104 Fifth Avenue. You can get current hours and more information at the Mission San Rafael website.

01 of 04

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 get well in the cold, damp climate. In 1817, the Fathers decided to build a hospital, an extension of the main mission, north of San Francisco where the climate was warmer and drier.

On December 14, 1817, Father Serra, the President of the Missions, raised a cross and performed the founding ceremony.

Father Luis Gil, who knew some medicine and spoke many native American languages, was put in charge of the tiny outpost. The Fathers in San Francisco 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 October 1822, Father Amoros converted so many of the local Miwok Indians that Mission San Rafael Archangel got full mission status on October 19, 1822.

The next year, some people wanted to Mission San Rafael Archangel and build a new mission at Sonoma. Eventually, the Catholic 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.

Continue to 2 of 4 below.
02 of 04

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

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

In 1829, local Indian converts Chief Marin and his friend Quintin left the mission. They attacked Mission San Rafael Archangel, but the neophytes formed a human shield to protect Father Amoros, hiding him in the marsh until the fighting ended.

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 them.

Father Amoros died in 1832. An inventory taken after his death lists 5,508 animals and a harvest 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 and put Father Jose Maria Mercado in charge. He was a 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 17 years, Mission San Rafael Archangel had 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 in 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.

Continue to 3 of 4 below.
03 of 04

Mission San Rafael Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

Mission San Rafael Arcangel
Richard Cummins / Getty Images

Few drawings or sketches remain today to give clues about what the buildings at San Rafael were like. 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.

Because it was not built originally as a full mission, it did not have a quadrangle like many of the other missions. The design did not change when it got full mission status in 1822.

The chapel building that stands in San Rafael today was built in 1949. It is more of a memorial to the mission than a reproduction. Its walls are hollow concrete plastered to look like adobe, and it faces a different direction than 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.

Continue to 4 of 4 below.
04 of 04

Mission San Rafael Cattle Brand

Cattle Brand of Mission San Rafael

Betsy Malloy Photography

In the 17 years that it was active, Mission San Rafael Archangel raised 2,210 cattle, 4,000 sheep, and 454 horses. They would have been marked with a brand like this one, drawn from samples on display at Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission San Antonio.

Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. California Missions Foundation. "San Rafael Arcángel." August 2021.

  2. St. Raphael Catholic Church Mission San Rafael Arcángel. "About Us." August 2021.