Soledad Mission

Soledad Mission

Kristina D.C. Hoeppner / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Soledad Mission was the thirteenth one built in California, founded October 9, 1791, by Father Fermin Lasuen. It gets the name Nuestra Senora de la Soledad which means the Solitude of Most Holy Mary, Our Lady.

Interesting Facts about Soledad Mission

Spanish Governor Arrillaga died at Mission Soledad in 1814. It was built so priests could break their journey between San Antonio de Padua and Carmel. It had more than 30 priests in its 44-year history

Soledad Mission Timeline

Father Lasuen founded Soledad Mission in 1791. At its peak in 1805, it had 688 neophytes. The mission was secularized in 1834 and reconstruction started in 1954.

Where Is Soledad Mission Located?

Soledad Mission
36641 Fort Romie Road
Soledad, CA
Mission Website and current hours

01 of 03

History of Mission Soledad: 1791 to Present Day

Interior of Mission Soledad

Betsy Malloy Photography

Soledad Mission was founded on October 9, 1791, by Father Fermin Lasuen, naming it Nuestra Senora de Soledad, dedicated to "the Solitude of Most Holy Mary, Our Lady." The name was taken from the remote location, and because of an expression the native Esselen Indians used that sounded like "soledad," the Spanish word for solitude.

It was an unlikely spot for a mission, in a hot, windswept, treeless valley. The Soledad Mission location was chosen because it provided a break on the 100-mile journey between San Antonio de Padua to the south and Carmel to the north.

Early Years of the Soledad Mission

Mission Soledad floundered during its first years. The weather was terrible - hot, dry and windy in summer and freezing cold on winter nights. No one wanted to stay very long. Not only was it hard for the Fathers, but very few Indians lived in the area.

To make matters worse, the first two priests at Mission Soledad, Father Marino Rubi, and Father Bartolome Gili were young men who had caused constant trouble during their priestly training. They did nothing to help Soledad Mission grow, and from the time they were assigned there, they complained (mostly about a shortage of altar wine) and asked to be transferred. Father Rubi left in 1793, and Father Gili left a year later.

Father Florencio Ibanez arrived at Soledad Mission in 1803 and was the first to give it consistent leadership. He stayed at Mission Soledad for fifteen years, installing an irrigation system, and raising crops and cattle. Despite an epidemic in 1802 that killed many Indians, by 1805 there were 727 people, 688 of them neophytes, at Soledad Mission. By 1810, the population dwindled to 598.

In 1814, California's first Spanish Governor, visited Soledad Mission to see his old friend Father Ibanez. While he was there, Governor Arrillaga died and was buried in the old church. Father Ibanez died four years later and was buried next to his friend.

Soledad Mission in the 1820s -1830s

Father Vicente Sarria, who was once Father-Presidente of the California Missions, came to take care of Soledad Mission after Father Ibanez died. An 1827 inventory included 5,400 sheep, 4,000 cattle and 800 horses.

Floods in 1824, 1828 and 1832 destroyed the church and chapel, and they were not rebuilt. Father Sarria stayed on as Soledad Mission became poorer and poorer, sharing his small amount of food with the Indians until he died of starvation. He was buried at Mission San Antonio.

Father Sarria was the last priest to serve Soledad Mission. During its history, the Fathers performed 2,000 baptisms and 700 marriages.

Secularization at Soledad Mission

When Soledad Mission was secularized in 1834, it had a 5,000-vine vineyard, three ranchos, 3,246 cattle, 2,400 sheep and 32 horses. Its assets were $556, but it owned $677 in debts. The Mission Soledad roof was sold to pay its debt to the Mexican government. By 1839, only 78 neophytes, 45 cattle, 586 sheep and 25 horses remained.

In 1845, Governor Pio Pico sold the site to Feliciano Soberanes for $800. Without a roof, the building's walls had crumbled from the weather by the time the United States government returned the property to the Catholic Church.

Soledad Mission in the 20th Century

Reconstruction of Soledad Mission began in 1954. So far, only the chapel and a few rooms next to it have been rebuilt.

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02 of 03

Soledad Mission Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds

Layout of Mission Soledad

Betsy Malloy

The original buildings at Soledad Mission were brush shelters. Building materials were scarce, and it was six years before the first permanent structure, an adobe chapel with a straw roof, was built.

The mission's location was prone to flooding, and the nearby Salinas and Arroyo Seco Rivers, small in summer, often overflowed in the rainy winter season. An 1824 flood destroyed the church, and it was never rebuilt. In 1828 another flood washed away the chapel that was built to replace the church. In 1832, the chapel was destroyed by a flood.

When the mission roof was sold in 1835 to pay its debts, the remaining buildings began to crumble, and they sat unused for the next 90 years. The current adobe buildings were reconstructed from the dust of the original adobe bricks, starting in 1954.

The bell hanging outside the chapel door today is the original one sent from Mexico in 1794.

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03 of 03

Soledad Mission Brand

Cattle Brand of Soledad Mission

Betsy Malloy Photography

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