Mission San Rafael Archangel

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Mission San Rafael Arcangel

(Saint Raphael, the Angel of joy, good health, travelers and happy meetings)

A brief history

The Mission San Rafael Arcangel is the 20th mission founded in California. It was founded on December 14th, 1817 by Friar Vicente de Sarria as a hospital asistencia for Mission Dolores, but was advanced to full mission status in 1823. Named for the archangel, Saint Raphael, one of the seven who stand before the throne of God.

In response to the severe mortality rate of the native population at Mission Dolores, Mission San Rafael was founded as a place for the ailing neophytes to regain their health. Governor Sola suggested transferring part of the native population to a sunnier location. Lieutenant Gabriel Moraga of the San Francisco Presidio had recommended the location for its sunny slop and shelter from winds and fog by the rolling hills. Located across the bay from Mission Dolores, the first group showed surprising improvement in health. Father Sarria hesitated to found a outpost there due to communication problems and lack of available priests. But Father Gil y Taboada offered to serve. He was considered to know more of the medical science than the other padres. On the day of founding, 26 children were baptized and some two hundred natives presented themselves for instructions. The place was not supposed to be a mission though, merely a sanitarium dedicated to healing the natives.

Father Gil erected a simple adobe building. With no attempt at beauty, it was simply 87 feel long and 42 feet wide. Divided into storehouses, hospital and the monastery. The church was built with no tower at one end of the building. The usual quadrangle found at other missions was never formed here. Within two years, the natives recovered their health so well, that other missions started sending their ailing charges. Father Juan Amoros from Carmel replaced Father Gil after a couple years. Under his leadership, the population rose to over one thousand natives. As a result of Father Amoros achievements, the location was made a mission.

In addition to being a mission, San Rafael served as a buffer against the Russians who had moved down the coast. Following the death of Father Amoros, thirteen years later, Father Jose Maria Mercado took over for the last two years for the missions 17 year existence. Father Mercado had a talent for making trouble combined with his explosive personality. He even armed the neophytes and sent them against visiting natives because he believe they were coming to attack. This band killed and wounded many of the visitors. As a result he was suspended for six months for his rash behavior, but it was deemed he had acted in good faith. Soon he clashed with General Mariano Vallejo, the commandante of the San Francisco presidio. With secularization, San Rafael became the first mission to be secularized. General Vallego owned great estates in the North Bay area, became the first administrator. All of the mission livestock was moved to his ranches along with everything else he could take. Even the vines and pear trees were dug up and replanted on his property. He gathered the natives to work on his own ranches and letting them work for their room and board.

In 1846, Captain Fremont and his men quartered in the deserted mission. Eventually the remains of the buildings were removed and replaced with a parish church and for many years, nothing remained of the original mission. Finally a replica of the old church building was constructed.

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