San Gabriel Mission

San Gabriel Mission

Rachel Titiriga/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 

San Gabriel Mission was the fourth one built in California. It was founded on September 8, 1771, by Fathers Pedro Cambon and Angel Somera. The name San Gabriel Mission is for the Arcangel Gabriel.

Interesting Facts about San Gabriel Mission

Mission San Gabriel is the oldest structure of its kind south of Monterey. Settlers from the mission founded the City of Los Angeles.

The mission is the only one in California with Moorish architecture, and it has no bell tower.

Where Is San Gabriel Mission Located?

Mission San Gabriel is at 428 South Mission Drive in San Gabriel CA. You can get the address, hours, and directions at the Mission San Gabriel Website.

01 of 08

History of San Gabriel Mission: 1771 to the Present Day

Statue of Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) in the grounds of Mission San Gabriel.
Lonely Planet / Getty Images

In 1771, there were two Spanish missions in what is now California. They were at San Diego and Carmel, more than 400 miles apart.

More Franciscan missionaries arrived at Father Serra's headquarters that year, and he decided to build more missions between the two existing ones. In the summer of 1771, the Fathers created two more missions: Mission San Antonio de Padua which is south of Carmel and San Gabriel Mission in the area that is now Los Angeles.

Fathers Pedro Cambon and Angel Somera founded San Gabriel Mission on September 8, 1771. They named for the Arcangel Gabriel. It was the fourth in a chain of 21. The original plan was to place it on the Santa Ana River. When the founders arrived, they decided to go further inland to the San Gabriel River instead.

According to legend, native chiefs tried to stop the fathers from building their mission. The Fathers were afraid of a bloody battle but showed the Indians a painting the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows and the Indians immediately threw down their bows and arrows.

Early Years

For 7,000 years before the Spanish came, the Tongva Indians lived in the area of California where Los Angeles now is. They built permanent villages along streams and rivers. Their houses were made from willow branches and reeds. The Tongva called their houses "Kiiy" (pronounced "key").

The Spanish missionaries often renamed the local Indians after the name of the mission nearby. They called the Tongva Gabrielinos, and you may sometimes hear or see that name.

The Indians were friendly in the beginning and helped with the building. Baptisms began immediately after the founding. However, relationships with the Indians turned bad because of the soldiers. A soldier attacked a chief's wife and killed her husband when he tried to stop him. The fathers acted quickly and had the guilty soldier sent to another location.

In 1774, Spanish soldier and explorer Juan Bautista de Anza arrived at Mission San Gabriel from Mexico City. He established a land route that passed by San Gabriel Mission, making it near a busy crossroad. Its location made it one of the most important missions.

In 1775, the fathers found a better site closer to the mountains, and they moved the mission. In 1776, Fathers Sanchez and Cruzado took over the mission. They ran it for the next thirty years. They began church construction in 1779.

In 1781, two fathers, several Indians, and eleven families left the mission and traveled nine miles west to form a civilian settlement. They called it El Pueblo de Nuestra la Reina de Los Angeles (The City of Our Lady Queen of the Angels). It is the present city of Los Angeles.

San Gabriel Mission in the 1800-1830s

In 1805, Fathers Sanchez and Cruzado both died, shortly before the building was completed. Father Jose Zalvidea came to replace them and stayed for the next 20 years.


After Mexico won independence from Spain, the missions were secularized. Their land was supposed to be transferred to the natives. Instead, most of it fell into the hands of dishonest politicians and their friends. The mission was turned over to a civil administrator in 1834.

Within ten years, all of the valuables were gone from San Gabriel Mission. In 1862, Congress returned the land to the Catholic church.

San Gabriel Mission in the 20th Century

San Gabriel Mission was used as a parish church until 1908 when the Claretan Fathers began to rebuild it. The 1987 Whitter earthquake damaged it, and repairs and restoration continue.

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02 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds


Betsy Malloy

Father Antonio Cruzado designed the mission, and it has several unusual characteristics. It is the only mission with Moorish style architecture. 

The design may have been based on the Cathedral of Cordova in Spain, which was once a Moorish mosque. Most of the other missions in California were built from adobe, but Mission San Gabriel uses stone, brick, and mortar, 

It took 26 years to construct the church, from 1779 until 1805. The church is 150 feet long and 27 feet wide, with walls 30 feet high and five feet thick. It will hold about 400 people.

An earthquake in 1812 destroyed the bell tower and damaged the father's quarters. The fathers lived in the granary until repairs were made. The restoration took until 1828, and the bell tower was replaced with a bell wall or campanario. There are six ancient bells in it.

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03 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Brand

Cattle Brand of Mission San Gabriel

Betsy Malloy Photography

Almost all of the Spanish missions raised cattle. This picture shows its cattle brand. It was drawn from samples on display at Mission San Francisco Solano and Mission San Antonio.

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04 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Exterior

Original Front Door of Mission San Gabriel
Ken Lund//Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

One of the unique characteristics of the mission is its entrance. Most missions has their entrance doos on the narrower side of the building. At San Gabriel, it's on the longer wall which is what most people would think of as the side.

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05 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Exterior Front

Exterior of Mission San Gabriel
Ken Lund//Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

The side entrance that once faced the El Camino Real is still used, but this more traditional "front door" faces the parking lot where visitors now arrive.

The bell tower once stood to the right of this entrance. After it collapsed, a bell wall replaced it which holds six bells. 

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06 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Interior

Interior of Mission San Gabriel
Ken Lund/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

San Gabriel Mission is one of the best preserved in California, with many of its original features still intact, including six altar statues brought around the Horn of Africa in 1791 and a hammered copper baptismal font, a gift from King Carlos III of Spain in 1771.

The altar was made in Mexico City and brought to Mission San Gabriel in the 1790's. The statues were hand-carved in Spain.

The screen on the wall behind the main altar is called a reredos. You can find out about it and more terms in the California mission glossary.

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07 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Aqueduct

Mission San Gabriel Aqueduct
Rachel Titiriga/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The mission's water supply came from Wilson Lake. It ran in an open ditch, then into clay pipes which carried it to the tannery and kitchen.

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08 of 08

San Gabriel Mission Candle and Soap Factory

Candle and Soap Factory at Mission San Gabriel
Ken Lund/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

A very large iron pot or kettle would sit on top of these big, deep furnaces, which kept the contents boiling while soap and candles were being made. This single factory supplied soap to many of the California missions, according to a sign posted nearby.