The Missions: Number 16

Named for the archangel Michael, San Miguel Mission was founded on July 25, 1797, by Father Fermin de Lasuen.  It was the third mission founded during the summer of 1797, and the 16th mission established by the Franciscan priesthood, located to facilitate travel between already existing missions San Luis Obispo and San Antonio.  Fifteen Indian children were baptized at the founding ceremony.  Neophytes (Indian converts) numbered over 1,000 in six years’ time, but in 1806 a fire destroyed most of the buildings as well as stores of wool, cloth, leather goods, and 6,000 bushels of grain.  Preparation for a new adobe church began soon afterward.  Tiles and adobe blocks were made and stored for 10 years before the stone foundation of the new church was installed in 1816.  By 1821 the new church building was completed, featuring a colonnade of 12 arches of different sizes and shapes—unique among the California missions—and interior frescos designed by artisan Esteban Munras, for which the church is now famous. From the completed church building, the mission property extended 18 miles north and 18 miles south; 66 miles to the east, and 35 miles west to the Pacific Ocean. Mission San Miguel never had a traditional bell tower.  Instead, the mission bells were hung from a wooden beam in one of the archways. Secularized by the Mexican government in 1834, Mission San Miguel was returned to the Catholic Church in 1859 by the United States. Today a bell tower designed and built in the 1930s inside the mission cemetery houses 3 bells, the largest of which, recast from 6 broken bells from other missions, weighs 2,000 pounds. A severe earthquake in 2003 caused major damage. After extensive restoration the church was reopened in 2009, and masses are now being held there in the Parish Church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Monterey.

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