Mission San Francisco de Asis

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Mission San Francisco de Asis (Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order)

A brief history

The Mission San Francisco de Asis is the 6th mission founded in California. It was founded on June 29th, 1776 by Friar Francisco Palou. Named for Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order.

While Father Serra and Inspector-General Galvez were planning the first three missions in Alta California, Father Serra lamented that there were no plans to name a mission after the founder of his very order. Inspector-General Galvez then offered this challenge, “If St. Francis desires a mission, let him show us his harbor and he shall have one”. At this time, the bay known as San Francisco had not been known of and the name was actually assigned to what is now Drakes Bay. At the time the Bahia de San Francisco had not been explored because the narrow entrance had actually escaped notice of passing ships.

When the Portola party missed finding Monterey Bay, the found the great bay but it was so large that they at first didn’t realize it was a bay at all, thinking it was the ocean itself. Soon after the Viceroy ordered two mission settlements there. Lt. Col. Juan Bautista de Anza led 240 settlers and 1,000 head of cattle to Monterey, crossing deserts, mountains and valleys with only one person dying the entire trip. Shortly thereafter he took a smaller party to San Francisco itself, where he selected a site for a presidio and another for the mission. He chose a spot on a bank of a rivulet that he christened Arroyo de los Dolores because it was the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows. Later the nearby lake would be called Dolores and also the mission.

On Anza’s return trip he stopped at Carmel and selected a site for the second San Francisco mission, Santa Clara. Then he turned over the party of colonists to Lieutenant Moraga and went home to Mexico. On June 17, 1776 the party left Monterey to establish both the presidio and the mission. Upon arrival, a small number made camp beside the small lake while the others went to the presidio site. On June 29th, 1776, Father Palou consecrated a small shelter and celebrated the first Mass.

Seven weeks later, a supply shit named the San Carlos sailed into the bay. By October 9th, a wooden church had been erected. On that day, a great celebration was held with cannon fire, muskets and even fireworks. It scared the natives off and they were not seen for several days. It was nearly a year before the first three natives were baptized.

Mission life was not very pleasant for the natives. A severe climate did much with chilling fogs and winds from the sea, that added to making treatment for the crippling disease that plagued the natives. For years, the mission was faced with the problem of neophytes (converted natives) running away to join their friends across the bay. Twenty years after the founding a group of 14 neophytes sent to search for the runaways was attacked and half were killed.

After secularization in 1834, the mission began to decline. It was a sleepy, isolated community that when the Gold Rush stuck, it was as if a cyclone had hit. The remote location became the center of gambling, tavern life and horse racing. Eventually the area was absorbed into the city as expansion occurred.The current church was begun in 1782 when Father Palou moved the mission to a more favorable site. It was dedicated in 1791 and has changed little since then. The large quadrangle, of which it was a corner, disappeared bit by bit over the years. The church itself has remained untouched. Spared by the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989, then spared from the so-called restorers, it has been carefully preserved, strengthened when necessary and faithfully kept to its original state.

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