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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Gabriel was founded on September 8, 1771 by Fathers Angel Fernandez de Somera and Pedro Benito Cambon. Father Junipero Serra had sent them to establish a new Mission. The Mission was the fourth to be founded and named Mission San Gabriel Arcangel after Gabriel the Arcangel, or messenger of God.
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Mission History Button   Location and Geography
Sources Button   The site chosen was near a river. The Spanish had named the river, Rio San Gabriel de Los Temblores, a name given when explorers that had originally found the site experienced a number of earthquakes. The site is near the coast in Southern California.

The site originally chosen had to be abandoned because of spring flooding. Four years after the founding the church was moved to another site in the San Miguel Valley.

The pueblo of Nuestra Senora de los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula (Our lady of the angels by the river Portincula), eventually to grow to be the city of Los Angeles, was built nine miles away from the mission in December 1781. Mission San Gabriel provided an important link on the road that ran between the Missions as well as two other roads that ended near Mission San Gabriel. These three roads passed by the Mission and visitors were offered the Mission if they needed a place to stay.
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Top of Page Button   The Native Americans
    The main tribes in the area around Mission San Gabriel were the Chumash and Tongva. The Chumash were one of the larger tribes in California. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Chumash and Tongva were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They would encourage local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. The first buildings would be built of wood poles and brush. Eventually the buildings would be replaced by larger adobe brick or stone buildings. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didn’t think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes weren’t perfect squares because the Fathers didn’t have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.

The church at Mission San Gabriel was built of stone and took 14 years to finish. The church was made of a combination of stone and brick. The builders used stone up to the windows and past that bricks. The church was built in Moorish style based on a cathedral in Cordova, Spain. Many people thought that the church looked like a fortress.

As with many of the Southern California Missions Mission San Gabriel was damaged in a series of 1812 earthquakes. The 1812 earthquake damaged the bell tower, friar’s quarters, and the workshops were destroyed. It took several years to repair all the damage. The Mission was damaged again in a 1987 earthquake and during the 1994 ‘Northridge’ earthquake. Each time the church was rebuilt or repaired. The Mission is nicknamed ‘Queen of Missions.’

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.

Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules.

Unmarried men and women were kept away from each other. Unmarried women and girls over 13 were forced to live and work in small buildings called Monjerios. The Spanish thought keeping the women locked in was the only way to protect them from soldiers and other men at the mission at night.

The Mission produced a number of different crops. They grew olives for olive oil, wheat, corn, barley, cotton, vegetables, and had several fruit tree orchards. Mission records show that they had 2333 fruit trees. They also had pigs, sheep, and cattle and made butter and cheese from cows’ milk. The Mission prospered and had a 170 acre vineyard to provide wine to the other Missions. The Mission also had 15 ranchos, or small ranches (including one called San Bernardino), that helped keep the huge amount of cattle owned by the Mission.

The Natives had never been exposed to the diseases that the Europeans brought with them. Unfortunately many died. Some estimate that as many as 3/4 of the natives died and records show that there are 6,000 buried at Mission San Gabriel alone.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    The Mission was secularized in 1834. At the time records showed that the Mission was quite rich with over 16,000 cattle. The mission was not able to provide enough food to the few people that had stayed and the Mexican government returned San Gabriel to the Catholic Church. By then less than 100 cattle were left, the buildings were empty, and the only natives left to help were old and sick. By 1845 California was fighting for its own independence and won. Mission San Gabriel was sold by California’s governor, Pio Pico, in 1846. By 1862 President Lincoln had returned some of the lands and the Mission buildings to the Catholic Church.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    The Catholic Church used the Mission as an active Parish until 1908 when the day to day responsibilities were given to the Claretian Missionaries. A school was opened in 1912 and the Mission continues to flourish.
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