Mission San Gabriel was founded as one of two missions between San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo near Monterrey and Misson San Diego. Mission San Gabriel Arcangel was established in September 1771, the fourth in the series of 21 missions that stretch 650 miles up the California coast. Under the direction of Father Junipero Serra, the mission was founded by Fathers Pedro Cambon and Joseph de la Somera near the present town of Montebello. Following a flood in 1776 that destroyed crops and buildings, the mission was relocated five miles to a more fertile location.
Relations with the Natives
Mission San Gabriel thrived from the moment of its founding. Father Serra called it the "Pride of the Missions." The native people, or "Gabrieliños" as the fathers called them, were enamored by the Franciscan religious ceremonies and began converting immediately. Legend holds that the fathers laid the painting "Our Lady of Sorrows" at the feet of the first natives they encountered. Moved by the painting's beauty, the natives were eager to learn from the fathers.
Baptisms began on the second day of the mission's existence. Despite conflicts with military men who helped protect the mission, the natives' relationship with the fathers prospered. There are some 6,000 natives buried at Mission San Gabriel, and more than 25,000 Baptisms were conducted from 1771 to 1834.
Importance of Mission San Gabriel
In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza's party arrived by a new overland trail. This established the first land link between Alta California and Sonora, Mexico, eliminating the need for a long and dangerous ocean voyage around Baja California. Because Mission San Gabriel was located near the end of the overland trail, it became the chief point of contact with Mexico, and thereby all the more important.
San Gabriel became the most prosperous of all the missions. Crops like wheat and corn were planted along with grapes for wine. Cattle and sheep were raised. The soap and candles made at Mission San Gabriel were used at the other 20 missions. Things grown at the mission supported those who lived there, but also were used for trade.
San Gabriel was built of stone, brick and mortar and it one of the best preserved missions in California. The church originally had an arched roof, but it was destroyed in an 1804 earthquake. In 1812, another earthquake destroyed the bell tower. It was replaced by a campanile which still holds six bells dating from 1795 to the 1830s.
Establishment of Los Angeles
In 1781, two fathers, several natives and 11 secular families traveled nine miles to the west and founded the pueblo of Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles de Porciuncula. "The City of Our Lady Queen of Angels" went on to become the City of Los Angeles. The families who originally settled the pueblo had traveled from Mexico in the summer of 1780. The Mission of San Gabriel supported the pueblo in its early days until it could become self-sufficient.
In 1834, control of Mission San Gabriel was transferred from the Catholic Church to the Mexican government. The facilities and agricultural endeavors fell into disarray and ruin. But the mission's church continued to function as a parish church for the City of San Gabriel until 1908 when restoration efforts began. Then in 1987, an earthquake damaged the property. Since then, a significant portion of the complex has been restored.