Mission San Gabriel Arcangel

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A view of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in April, 2005. The open stairway at the far right leads to the choir loft, and to the left is the six-bell campanario ("bell wall") that was built after the original bell structure, located at the far end of the church, toppled during the Wrightwood Earthquake (http://www.data.scec.org/chrono_index/wrightwd.html) of 1812.

Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, the "Pride of the Missions," was founded on September 8 (the "Birthday of Mary"), 1771 in present day Montebello by Padres Pedro Benito Cambón and Angel Fernández de la Somera. This fourth mission, (named for the Archangel Gabriel) and situated in the First Military District, was designed by Father Antonio Cruzado who hailed from Córdoba, Spain, which accounts for the Mission's strong Moorish influence.

The original Mission site (today referred to as "Mission Vieja" or "Old Mission") was a fertile plain located directly alongside the Rio de los Temblores (or "River of Earthquakes," today known as the San Gabriel River). In 1776 a flash flood destroyed much of the crops and ruined the Mission complex, which was subsequently relocated five miles closer to the mountains in present day San Gabriel. Mission San Gabriel is located near what became the City of Los Angeles, California in 1850.

Legend has it that the founding expedition was confronted by a large group of native Shoshone peoples whose intention was to drive the strangers away. One of the padres laid a painting of "Our Lady of Sorrows" on the ground for all to see, whereupon the Indians (known to the settlers as the Gabrielenos) immediately made peace with the missionaries, so moved were they by the painting's beauty. Today the 300-year-old piece hangs in the Mission's reredos (sanctuary).

A large stone cross stands in the center of the campo santo (cemetery), first consecrated in 1778 and then again on January 29, 1939 by Los Angeles Archbishop John Cantwell. It serves as the final resting place for some 6,000 "neophytes" Indians; a small stone marker denotes the gravesite of José de Los Santos, the last Indian to be buried on the grounds at the age of 101 in February, 1921. Also interred at the Mission are the bodies of numerous Franciscan Fathers who passed away during their time of service, as well as the remains of Reverend Raymond Catalan, C.M.F., who undertook the restoration of the Mission's gardens. Entombed at the foot of the altar are the remains of eight Franciscan priests (listed in order of interment): Father Miguel Sánchez, Father Antonio Cruzado, Father Francisco Dumetz, Father Roman Ulibarri, Father Joaquin P. Nuez, Father Gerónimo Boscana, Father José Bernardo Sánchez, and Father Blas Ordaz.

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A streetcar of the Pacific Electric Railway makes a stop at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel circa 1905.

Well over 25,000 baptisms were conducted at San Gabriel between 1771 and 1834, making it the most prolific in the mission chain. In its heyday it furnished food and supplies to settlements and other missions throughout California. A majority of the Mission structures fell into ruins after it was secularized in November 1834.

The Mission's chapel functioned as a parish church for the City of San Gabriel from 1862 until 1908, when the Claretian Missionary Fathers came to San Gabriel and began the job of rebuilding and restoring the Mission. On October 1, 1987 the Whittier Narrows Earthquake (http://www.data.scec.org/chrono_index/whittier.html) further damaged the property. A significant portion of the original complex has since been restored.

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Mission San Gabriel Arcángel circa 1900. The trail in the foreground is part of the original El Camino Real.
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The San Gabriel Civic Auditorium (http://www.sgcivic.org/), a classic example of "Mission Revival Style Architecture", was built in 1927 as the "Mission Playhouse" by poet, Los Angeles Times columnist, and author John Steven McGroarty specifically as a venue for his production of The Mission Play which chronicled the history of California. The structure was modeled after the Mission San Antonio de Padua in Monterey.
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