Sonoma Mission

Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

 Betsy Malloy 

The Sonoma Mission was the last Spanish mission built in California, founded in 1823 by Father Jose Altimira. Its official name is Mission San Francisco Solano, named for St. Francis of Solano, a 17th-century missionary to the Peruvian Indians, but it's more commonly called Mission Sonoma.

Interesting Facts about Sonoma Mission

Mission Sonoma was the last and northernmost California mission. It was the only one founded after Mexico gained independence from Spain and it was the only one founded without the Catholic church's prior approval.

Sonoma Mission Timeline

Father Altimira founded the mission in 1823 After an Indian uprising in 1827, it had its most successful year in 1832. Just 12 years after it was founded, it was secularized

Mission Sonoma is located at the corner of the historic plaza in the town of Sonoma. 

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History of Sonoma Mission: 1823 to Present Day

Interior of Chapel at Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma

Betsy Malloy Photography

Father Jose Altimira came from Barcelona, Spain, to California in 1819, to help at Mission Dolores. The ambitious young man soon got tired of the routine work at the established mission, and he devised a plan to move it north to a warmer spot.

Instead of asking the church for permission, he went to the Mexican Governor Don Luis Arguello. Altimira wanted to move both the San Francisco and San Rafael missions to the new location. Arguello thought that would help keep the Russians out of northern California.

Altimira went north to scout a spot founded Sonoma Mission on July 4, 1823. He went back to San Francisco and took soldiers and supplies back to the new location. Other Fathers in the church opposed his plan, and when the Church finally approved the new mission, they insisted that the two remaining ones stay in place.

Sonoma Mission History in the 1820s-1830s

Father Altimira was determined to prove that he was right about the new mission, and it had a good start. He brought almost 700 Indian neophytes from San Francisco. The vineyards, planted in the midst of what is now the Sonoma Valley wine area, flourished.

However, Altimira was a cruel man who flogged and imprisoned the natives in an attempt to "civilize" them, and they soon revolted. A large group attacked the mission. They stole and burned, and soon afterward Father Altimira fled to San Rafael. After that, he worked at San Buenaventura and returned to Spain in 1828.

Father Buenaventura Fortuni, who had worked at Mission San Jose, replaced Altimira. He rebuilt the mission and its buildings and regained the Indian's trust. 1832 was the mission's most successful year, when Fortuni recorded 127 baptisms, 34 marriages and 70 deaths, and a total of 996 neophytes. The mission also had 6,000 sheep and goats, 900 horses, 13 mules, 50 pigs and 3,500 cattle. The fields produced wheat, barley, beans, peas, and corn.

In 1833, the Zacatecan Franciscan priests from Mexico took over the Sonoma Mission, and Father Jose Gutierrez was placed in charge. Father Gutierrez also punished the Indians by beating them in an attempt to control them, an action that eventually helped General Vallejo gain control.


The mission buildings were barely finished when Sonoma Mission was secularized on November 3, 1834.

General Mariano Vallejo, Commandant of the San Francisco Presidio, took control. He was supposed to give the property to the Indians, but he kept it for himself instead. Vallejo founded a town around the mission, which is now the town of Sonoma. The chapel was used as a parish church until 1880 and was eventually sold to a man who built a saloon in front of it and used the chapel as a storehouse.

Sonoma Mission History in the 20th Century

The Historic Landmarks League bought the mission property in 1903. They finished restoring the mission in 1926 when they turned it over to the State of California. After further restoration, the mission is part of the Sonoma Mission State Historic Park.

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Sonoma Mission Layout, Floor Plan, Buildings and Grounds


Betsy Malloy Photography

Mission founder Father Altimira built a wooden church that was dedicated in 1824. Other missions did not contribute much to the new church, but the Russians at Fort Ross donated some articles, including a Russian-made bell.

By 1825, Father Altimira had built a priest's house, granary and thatched houses for the guards. In 1826, an adobe wall around the quadrangle was finished.

After Father Fortuni arrived in 1826, new buildings were built, made of adobe with tile roofs. The church was started in 1827 and finished in 1832. By 1833, the mission's thirty buildings included a 27-room convento, a wooden storehouse, workshops, living quarters for Indian girls, houses for Indian and military families, a gristmill, a jail and an infirmary.

After secularization, settlers in the new town of Sonoma started taking the roof tiles and building materials to build their homes and businesses, and the adobe structures began to crumble. By 1839, the mission was in ruins.

The Historic Landmarks League bought the mission property in 1903, and they finished restoring the mission in 1926 when they turned it over to the State of California. Today, it is part of the Sonoma State Historic Park.

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Pictures of Sonoma Mission

Cattle Brand of Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, California

Betsy Malloy Photography

In 1832, the mission had lots of livestock: a total of more than 10,000 sheep, goats, horses, mules, pigs, and cattle. 

The picture above shows the mission's cattle brand. It was drawn from samples on display there and at Mission San Antonio.

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