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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Rafael was the 20th Mission founded in the Alta California mission chain. The Mission was founded on December 14, 1817 by Fray Sarria and named after the archangel Raphael, the healer of disease. Mission San Rafael was originally a sub-mission or asistencia for Mission San Francisco. The Mission was raised to full mission status on October 19, 1823.
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Sources Button  Location and Geography
Bibliography History Button   The location was chosen by Father Gil on a site called Nanaguanui by the local tribes. The area was sunny and protected from wind and fog. The Fathers thought the site’s sunny weather would help those sickened by the dampness and poor weather at San Francisco de Asis.

    The Native Americans
    The main tribe in the area around Mission San Rafael was the Coast Miwoks. There were also Ohlones, named Costeños by the Spanish. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Coast Miwoks and Ohlones 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.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers normally followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings, usually in the shape of a square. 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. Mission San Rafael hadn’t been planned to be a Mission so the buildings were smaller and did not follow the standard quadrangle shape.

No pictures were drawn of the original Mission. An elderly Mexican general, Mariano Vallejo, was asked to draw a picture from memory. Scholars think that our images of the Mission were based on his drawings.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at Mission San Rafael was different than life at other Missions. 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. Since Mission San Rafael had originally been built as an asistencia to Mission San Francsico de Asis it had received building materials, food, and animals when the site was founded.

Most Missions followed 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.

Since Mission San Rafael had been built as a place where sick neophytes could get better, the Mission didn’t follow the strict schedule of other missions. Also, the sick were not expected to work in the fields or workshops. Within the first year there were 300 neophytes living at the Mission. The Mission produced figs, pears, and grapes from the orchards around the Mission.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    The Mission did not hold full mission status for long. Secularization of the mission started 10 years after Mission San Rafael was made a full Mission. The Mission was used for meetings between military figures of the time including being the military offices of General John C. Fremont a General from the war between the U.S. and Mexico. The Mission was sold in 1846 and torn down between 1861 and 1870.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    The Mission we see today is a replica built in 1949. Felix Adrian Raynaud created a famous postcard of the Mission and the reproduction is based on his image.

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