San Gabriel Mission

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    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.

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  • 02 of 11

    San Gabriel Mission Exterior

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

    It looks like the side, but actually, it's the original front door.

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    San Gabriel Mission Exterior Front

    Exterior of Mission San Gabriel
    Ken Lund//Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
    The side entrance once faced the El Camino Real and the door is still used, but this more traditional "front door" faces the parking lot where visitors now arrive.

    On the right side, you can see the crumbled brick where the bell tower once stood.

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  • 04 of 11

    San Gabriel Mission Bell Wall

    Bell Wall at Mission San Gabriel
    Ken Lund/CC BY-SA 2.0

    The original bell tower was replaced with this wall, which holds six bells. 

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    San Gabriel Mission Interior

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

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

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    San Gabriel Mission Altar

    Altar at Mission San Gabriel
    Rachel Titiriga/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    This 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 11

    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 11

    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.

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  • 09 of 11

    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 missions in California - at San Diego and Carmel, more than 400 miles apart. When more Franciscan missionaries arrived at Father Serra's headquarters that year, he decided to build more missions in between. In the summer of 1771, two more missions were established: San Antonio de Padua and San Gabriel Mission.

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

    According to legend, native chiefs tried to stop the fathers from building. Afraid of a bloody battle, the fathers showed them a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Indians immediately threw down their bows and arrows.

    Early Years

    The Tongva Indians lived in the area of California where Los Angeles now is for 7,000 years before the Spanish came. 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 renamed the Indians Gabrielinos after the name of the mission, and you may 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, Juan Bautista de Anza arrived from Mexico City, establishing 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 it was moved. 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 civilian families left the mission and traveled nine miles west to form El Pueblo de Nuestra la Reina del Los Angeles (The City of our Lady Queen of the Angels), the present city of Los Angeles.

    San Gabriel Mission in the 1800-1830s

    In 1805, both father Sanchez and Cruzado died, shortly before the building was completed. Father Jose Zalvidea came in 1805 and stayed for the next twenty years.


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

    Within ten years, the San Gabriel Mission was stripped of all its valuables. Pio Pico tried to sell the mission to a friend, but he was stopped when United States soldiers arrived. 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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    San Gabriel Mission Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

    ©Betsy Malloy 2002

    Father Antonio Cruzado designed the mission and it has several unusual characteristics. It is the only mission with Moorish style architecture, and the front of the building is actually a side wall.

    The design may have been based on the Cathedral of Cordova in Spain, which was once a Moorish mosque. It is also built from stone, brick, and mortar, unlike most other missions that were built from adobe.

    It took 26 years to build 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. Restoration took until 1828 and the bell tower and it was replaced with a bell wall or campanario. There are six ancient bells in it.

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  • 11 of 11

    San Gabriel Mission Brand

    ©2014 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

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