Mission San Miguel Arcangel (CA)

December 31, 2014

In 1492 the Bible arrived in America hand in hand with the sword of Spanish conquistadors.

Modern bells facing the freeway, with the old mission wall

During its expansion in California, the Spanish Empire decided to use the bible first and between 1769 and 1823, Franciscan missionaries built 21 missions along the coast of California

San Miguel's various-sized arches are a noted feature of this mission

San Miguel Arcangel, the 16th mission in order of foundation was founded in 1797 and is one of the most intact of the original California missions. 

This place became one of the first wheat fields in California. 4700 bushels of wheat were harvested in 1800.

San Miguel had a sizeable livestock herd, which averaged 22,000 head between 1811 and 1824. In the peak year 1821 the mission had over 24,000 animals, including 9,000 cattle and 13,500 sheep.

The Salinas were the original habitants of this region. The US Government didn't recognize their rights granted with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848). In 1853 slavery pretty much was legalized and by the 1860s the kidnapping and sale of Indian children was commonplace.

The census records of 1930 do not show any people identifying as Salinan. They continued to practice Salinan culture in secret but now they are officially recognized by the State of California.

Candle Making

This brought me memories back, these are tallow candles. Animal fat is melted on a large metal vessel and the hoop was lowered so that the strings dipped into the tallow.

When you touch those candles your hands get all sticky.


The missions had to make their own clothing, rugs and blankets. The primary material used was wool.

Oven (horno)

The oven had no chimney, just a small hole in the back and wood fire was built inside. Once the fire burned down, the oven was cleaned out, bread or meat was placed inside and the oven was sealed, while cooling food was getting cooked.

Padres's Room (celda)

No mattress at that time. Leather tongs were tied on a frame in two directions and on this was placed animal skin or cloth. When I was a kid I remember seeing beds with large cowhides stretched across it and tied onto the frame with leather tongs. This is why I never complaint about mattresses

There are rooms with interesting exhibitions, including reproductions of 19th century paintings, a 17th or 18th Spanish San Miguel statue beating the crap out of a devil, carved woods among other things representative from that time.

The restored church

A severe earthquake on December 22, 2003 caused extensive damage to the mission. After an extensive restoration the church was reopened in September, 2009, and masses are now being held there.

The painted walls inside the church are the original artwork by artist Esteban Munras and other Salinan artists

It will take a while if I tell you the meaning of all the symbols at the altar (I studied in Catholic schools) but if you ever go inside a church, the big eye is what is called the ALL-SEEING EYE OF GOD. As a kid I was told the eye was watching me so I had to behave during the service.

The bells were rung at mealtimes, to call the Mission residents to work and to religious services, during births and funerals, or to signal the approach of a ship or returning missions.

Mission Bells

If you ever visit a small church, don't touch the bells, you will have old ladies coming to pray without warning. I did that once as kid and that was the last time I was allowed to play the bells.

The cemetery holds the remains of 2,249 Native Americans listed in the Mission's burial records.

The mission was secularized in 1834 and returned to the Catholic community in 1859.

If you ever go there, keep in mind the fountain was built in the 1940s but harmonizes well with the rest of the mission. The design was adapted from the fountain in Mission Santa Barbara.