The Missions: Number 20

In ceremonies conducted by Father Prefecto Sarria, San Rafael Arcángel in Marin County was founded December 14, 1817, to commemorate the Archangel St. Raphael. It is the 20th Franciscan mission, gaining full mission status in 1822, five years after having been built as a branch or asistencia of Mission Dolores in San Francisco.  Climate was a main factor in establishing this branch facility as a hospital for ailing Neophyte Indians; another was its location three day’s travel from the Russian settlement of Fort Ross, because the Spanish felt that their presence minimize the Russian claim of sovereignty in the area. Father Luis Gil designed and supervised the construction of a small tile-roofed adobe church with no campanile, and its bells were hung from a plain wooden frame in the foreyard. An adjoining wing held the padre’s quarters, a kitchen and other rooms, covered with a tule roof that hung out over a veranda. Gardens and orchards were planted farther down toward the tidelands of the bay. San Rafael achieved its largest population of 1,140 in 1828, and despite various conflicts with some of the Indians, the mission prospered, with the Nicasio Rancho as its most valuable asset. However, in 1834 it was among the first of the missions to be secularized. General Mariano Vallejo was appointed administrator of the northern missions, and Ignacio Martinez was the first local administrator of Mission San Rafael. He was replaced by John Thomas Reed, the first Irishman to settle on the Pacific Coast, who in turn was replaced by Timothy Murphy from County Wexford, Ireland, until about 1842. In 1844 Governor Pio Pico sold the mission to his brother and another friend, who deeded it to some San Francisco men. Eleven years later it was given to the Diocese of San Francisco by special decree of James Polk, President of the United States, but by that time most of the buildings were abandoned. A larger wooden chapel in the Spanish style replaced the original small chapel in 1869, only to burn down in January 1919. The cornerstone for the present church was laid later that same year on St. Rafael’s Day, October 25. A replica of the original mission church was constructed in 1949, although not on the same spot.


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