Mission San Miguel is one of California's historical and cultural treasures. The beautiful old adobe building, whose foundations were laid more than 200 years ago, is a precious part of our heritage, with a story that is integral to California's history.
Mission San Miguel - named for the Archangel Saint Michael - was founded by Franciscan Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen in 1797, and was meant to close the gap between Mission San Antonio to the north and Mission San Luis Obispo to the south. Father Buenaventura Sitjar, who had ministered for years at Mission San Antonio and was fluent in the local Salinan language, baptized 25 youth on the day the Mission was established.
A temporary church was built in 1797 but was lost to fire in 1806 - at a time when more than 1,000 Salinans were living and working at the mission. Soon after the fire, preparations for a new adobe church began. Tiles and adobe blocks were made and stored before the stone foundation of the church was laid in 1816. By 1821 the church building was complete, along with the interior frescos designed by Esteban Munras.
San Miguel Mission property extended 18 miles to the north and 18 miles to the south, 66 miles to the east and 35 miles to the Pacific Ocean. The success of the Mission was due largely to Father Juan Martin who served here from the beginning until 1824.
Following Mexico's move to independence, Mission San Miguel was secularized in 1834 and put under the control of a civilian administrator. With the exile of the Spanish Franciscans, the Salinan People left the mission for their ancestral homelands.
On July 4, 1846, Petronillo Rios and William Reed took possession of the mission and the Reed family occupied the recently abandoned buildings. After the 1848 murder of the Reed family members and their household staff, the mission rooms were converted to commercial stores such as a hotel, a saloon, and retail shops.
United States President Buchanan returned the mission buildings and the surrounding property to the Catholic Church in 1859. In 1878 a diocesan priest was assigned and the Parish of San Miguel was established.
In 1928, Mission San Miguel was again occupied and administered by Franciscan Friars of the Province of Saint Barbara and continues so to this day.
On the morning of December 22, 2003, California's Central Coast was rocked by a severe earthquake, the largest to strike the region in over 50 years. Mission San Miguel, just 34 miles from the epicenter, was especially hard-hit. The entire Mission complex was closed to the public, and the long process for raising funds for a retrofitting began.
In 2005, the Mission Gift Shop was reopened, and then on December 22, 2006 - the same day and time as the earthquake three years earlier - the Museum reopened. This was followed by reopening of the parish offices. On the Feast Day of St. Michael the Archangel on September 29, 2009, a dedication Mass was celebrated in the church and three days later a public ceremony was held to mark the church's reopening.
In January and in October of 2011, retrofitting of the former retreat wing and part of the Franciscans' living quarters were completed. Two more wings of the inner quadrangle remain to be restored. Restoration fund raising continues today.
The church's appearance today is much the same as when it was built. The inside of the church has never been repainted. The wall frescos are the originals that were painted by Salinan artists under the direction of Esteban Munras.
Today Mission San Miguel is both a State and National Historical Landmark, an authentic reminder of California's past.
Please visit our Photo Archives to view some original photographs of Mission San Miguel from the Library of Congress.
For more information about Mission San Miguel and the other California Missions, please visit California Missions Resource Center.