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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Miguel was founded by Father Lasuen on July 25, 1797. It was the 16th Mission to be founded in the Alta California Mission chain. The mission is named after Saint Michael the Archangel.

The site for Mission San Miguel was chosen because the governor of California, Diego Borica, thought that the distance of more than a day’s journey between San Luis Obispo and San Antonio de Padua was too much. He thought it was dangerous to travel through lands still held by the Native Americans. The Governor wrote to Spain and asked for $1000 to begin building the Mission. Mission San Miguel filled the last gap from Mission San Luis Obispo to Mission San Francisco de Asis.
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   Location and Geography
    Father Sitjar from Mission San Antonio de Padua inspected different sites and decided on one near the Salinas river with trees for building and a Salinan village, Sagshpileel, nearby.
  The Native Americans
    The main tribe in the area around Mission San Buenaventura was the Salinan. The Spanish named the tribe the Salinan, we don’t know what name they used for themselves. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Salinan were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families.

Another tribe in the area, the Yokuts, were not as willing as the Salinan to live under Mission rule. By 1814 tensions had increased and the Yokuts were afraid the Spanish were going to attack. In 1818 the Yokuts attacked the Spanish but were beaten back by the Spanish’s guns. Guns were much deadlier weapons than bows and arrows.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They would encourage local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. The first buildings would be built of wood poles and brush. Eventually the buildings would be replaced by larger adobe brick or stone buildings. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didn’t think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes weren’t perfect squares because the Fathers didn’t have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.

The Salinans helped build the Mission and eventually they built a large church made of wood and an adobe house. They also build a small chapel made of adobe. By 1800 there were five more adobe structures. The Mission prospered and by 1805 47 small houses had been built just outside the Mission. The Mission suffered a horrible fire on August 25, 1806. The fire destroyed the roof of the church, two sets of buildings, and much of the grain that the Mission had stored. The fire spread quickly because the roofs were made of wood and thatch. The Fathers decided to rebuild with tile roofs instead. Eventually the buildings were covered with a mixture of sand, water, cactus juice and a powder made from rocks or seashells to make a white colored plaster material. This plaster was used to cover the walls and make them less likely to burn in a fire. By 1814 the population had grown to over 1000 and the Fathers asked Spain for permission to build a new church. Permission was granted to them in December 1814 and preparations were made to store the materials needed to build the new church. The foundation for the new church was put down in 1816 and the new church was finished two years later.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.

Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules.

By 1806 949 Salinans lived at the Mission and by 1814 over 1070 Native Californians, mostly Salinan Indians, lived there. The Mission raised a lot of livestock including cattle, sheep, and pigs. Cattle need a lot of room to graze so the Mission built ranchos, or ranches, to help tend to the livestock. Mission San Miguel had so many animals and agricultural fields that they had 6 ranchos: Rancho Santa Ysabel with a vineyard, Rancha Santa Rosa, Rancho el Paso de Robles that grew wheat, Rancho del Aguaje, Rancho de la Asuncion for cattle and horses, and Rancho la Playa. Each of the Ranchos was near another tribe and helped the Mission attract more Native Californian’s to the Mission lifestyle. The resources at the Mission allowed the natives to make leather from the cattle, spin wool from the sheep, and create charcoal from the wood in the area. They also grew wheat, corn, barley, and peas.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    Mission San Miguel, 1890When the Missions were returned to the Mexican government in 1831 hard times came to Mission San Miguel. In August 1834 the Salinans were told they were free and given several chances to leave the Mission but refused because they respected the priests that ran the Mission. They also had no where else to go, their tribal lands had been taken over by ranchers and the Native Californians had no way to support themselves or their families. In 1836 the Mexican government seized the Mission and took over. The officials that took over the Mission, Ignacio Coronel and later Ynocente Garcia were not liked by the Salinans because they did not treat them well. Many workers left the Mission and the fields produced less and less food. By the end of the 1830s and into the 1840s the people left at the Mission began to starve. There was not enough food being grown to feed them.

The Mission lands were sold to two businessmen, Petronillo Rios and William Reed, by Governor Pio Pico in 1846. The Mission continued to deteriorate and in 1859 the church and other buildings were given back to the Catholic church. A Catholic parish was set up at the Mission in 1878 but the buildings continued to crumble.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    Mission San Miguel has survived over two centuries but is now in danger of collapse. An earthquake in Paso Robles (originally a former Rancho of the Mission) on December 22, 2003 severely damaged the building. The building was closed to the public because it is too dangerous to enter. Organizations have donated money to help the Mission’s parish which doesn’t have enough money to take on the rebuilding, but it will take millions of dollars to keep the Mission from collapsing. An application has been made to the Federal Government but it has been stopped because of concerns over the Constitution’s concept of separation between church and state. The Government’s concern is it right for the Federal Government give money to rebuild a piece of church property?

More information about reconstruction efforts can be found at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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