Mission San Miguel is one of California's historical and cultural treasures. The beautiful old mission building, whose foundations were laid nearly 200 years ago, is a precious part of our spiritual heritage, with a story that is integral to California's history.
Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuén founded Mission San Miguel on July 25, 1797. Almost two years earlier, the site was selected to close the gap between Mission San Antonio and Mission San Luis Obispo. It was a beautiful spot on the Salinas River called Vahca by the natives, Las Pozas by the Spaniards or "The Wells". The mission was to be named for the "Most Glorious Prince of the Celestial Militia, Archangel Saint Michael". Father Buenaventura Sitjar, the first administrator at Mission San Miguel had ministered to the Salinan people for 25 years at Mission San Antonio prior to his arrival at Mission San Miguel. Father Sitjar was fluent in the Salinan language and baptized 15 youth the first day Mission San Miguel was established.
From the church building, the property extended 18 miles to the north and 18 miles to the south; the property extended 66 miles to the east, and as far as the Pacific Ocean, 35 miles to the west.
A temporary church was built in 1797 but was lost to fire in 1806, at a time when more than one thousand neophytes were living and working at Mission San Miguel. Preparation for a new adobe church began soon after. Tiles and adobe blocks were made and stored for 10 years before the stone foundation of the church was laid in 1816. By 1821 the church was completed along with the interior frescos designed by Esteban Munras. The success of the mission was largely due to Father Juan Martin (1770 - 1824).
Following Mexico's move to independence, mission life began to change. Mission San Miguel was secularized in 1834 and put under the control of a civilian administrator and at the time, there were only 30 Indians left at the mission. With the exile of the Spanish Franciscans, the Salinan people had left Mission San Miguel for their ancestral homelands throughout the Central Coast.
On July 4, 1846, Petronillo Rios and William Reed took possession of the mission Buildings and the Reed family occupied the recently abandoned mission. Following the murder of 11 Reed family members and household staff, the mission rooms were converted to commercial stores such as, a hotel, saloon, and retail shops.
President Buchanan returned the mission buildings and surrounding property to the Catholic Church in 1859. A resident priest was assigned to Mission San Miguel in 1878 and the mission parish was established.
In 1928 the mission was returned to the Franciscans, serving as a local parish and a novitiate training school for those becoming Franciscan Friars.
Just after 11 o'clock in the morning of December 22, 2003 the Central California Coast was rocked by a 6.5 earthquake, the largest to strike the region in over 50 years.
Old Mission San Miguel, located just 35 miles from the epicenter, was especially hard hit. All of the Mission's buildings were rendered off-limits to the public. Numerous cracks and fractures appeared in many of the Mission's walls. Entire sections of plaster sloughed off, exposing the vulnerable adobe beneath to the elements. The entire Mission complex was closed to the public and the long process of raising funds for the restoration and the fruition of the restoration itself began.
In 2005, the Gift Shop was reopened and then on December 22nd, 2006 at 11:15:56 am - the same day and time of the earthquake three years prior, the museum, housed in the old convento, reopened. This was followed by the reopening of the Parish offices. On the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29, 2009, a dedication ceremony and mass was held in the church, followed by a public ceremony on October 2, 2009 at 10:00 am, marking its grand reopening, along with the cemetery. In January of 2011 the retreat center was completed and in October of 2011, the Friar's kitchen and dining room were completed.
The church's appearance today is much the same as when it was founded. The inside of the church has never been repainted. The pictures and colors you see are the originals that were created and painted by Indian artisans under the direction of Esteban Munras. The Mission is once again a thriving parish and continues to be a novitiate training facility.
Please visit our Photo Archives to view some original photographs of Mission San Miguel from the Library of Congress.
Take an Online Tour of the Mission given by Brother Antonio.