mission san gabriel

Mission San Gabriel – San Gabriel, California

This post first appeared on Catholic Traveller in 2006.

“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), is the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, when he is sent to ask her to become the Mother of God (Matthew 1:23).  How fitting a tribute, that the 4th California Mission, established on the feast of the birthday of Mary, September 8, 1771, be named in his honor.

Mission San Gabriel became the vital overland connection to Mexico when Juan Bautista de Anza arrived with his party in 1774.  Thus enabling the avoidance of a dangerous voyage around Baja and contributing to making San Gabriel the wealthiest of all the missions.

The birth of this mission had its own unique problems,

as did all the others.  First winning the trust of the native Tongva people, wowing them with the awesome beauty of the Franciscan Mass. Because of this the tribes enthusiastically participated in the religious rites and helped with the building. But their success was almost ruined when one of the soldiers sent to “protect” the mission raped a chieftain’s wife and shot and killed the chief.

As a result, the padres were barely able to prevent an uprising. The soldier was reassigned elsewhere. And the mission continued to serve the natives.  Originally on the Rio de Los Temblores (now the Santa Ana River), the mission relocated near Montebello. Later it moved closer to the mountains in its present location.  

The padres brought with them many priceless paintings

from Spain. Some are now over 400 years old, still on display at the mission. Most notable are the works of Murillo, Correggio, and copies of Rafael and del Sarto. Even so, the paintings by the native Gabrielenos, with colors of local origin are in better condition.  Above all the beautiful 14 Stations of the Cross. The hammered copper baptismal font, above, was a gift from King Carlos III of Spain in 1771.

An historically crucial event

took place in 1781. A party of 2 padres, several Indians and 11 families set out specifically to establish a small settlement 9 miles west of the mission. They christened it El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de Los Angeles. Namely, present-day Los Angeles.

Colonists at Los Angeles soon grew envious of the prosperity of the mission. For a time, they won out under Mexican secularization. In less than 6 years, in 1834, the mission’s herd of over 16,500 cattle dwindled to less than 100. However, the arrival of U.S. troops stopped the final sale of the property by Governor Pio Pico in 1853. Subsequently, in 1862 the Catholic Church regained stewardship of the mission.

The cemetary holds the mortal remains of many mission Indians. The Claretian Fathers took responsibility for the mission in 1908. They still bury their dead there.


This visit to Mission San Gabriel brought back many memories.  As a Catholic School student in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I frequently went on field trips to the local missions.  These trips were always enjoyable back then. But to see it again through my adult eyes and my tested faith was a joy. On the day we were there, another group of Catholic School students was there on a field trip. Above, they enjoy a little traditional flute music, provided by a Gabrieleno descendant.

The old well has been filled in for safety. The winery stands in silent display of the beginnings of California’s exquisite wine industry.  An ox yoke and an old cream separator were “modern conveniences” in their time.


This young pilgrim studies the outdoor kitchen, used mainly for soap and candle making.  San Gabriel provided soap and candles for all the missions. The remains of the aqueduct which brought fresh water to the mission.  Tanning vats for turning hides into soft leathers. Los Angeles provided a thriving market for mission goods.

The cannon, a remnant of colonial days.  This room was for important visitors. A mission Indian lovingly crafted this crucifix, using his own hair for the hair of Jesus.

Original hand printed hymnals, silk vestments and guitar are some of the fine relics on display in the mission museum.

The present mission

church, designed by Fr. Antonio Cruzado, was built from 1791-1805. Besides being constructed with cut stone, brick and mortar, it is the oldest structure of its kind south of Monterrey, CA.  A campanario, or bell wall, also replaced the original bell tower after the 1812 earthquake. In 1912 the Dominican Sisters built the parish school and then in 1949 a high school. Today Masses are celebrated in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

To plan your pilgrimage, and for more information or group tours contact:

San Gabriel Mission

428 S. Mission Dr.

San Gabriel, CA  91776



Resources – so, my original online resources are no longer available. But you can use these links for more info.




This post first appeared on Catholic Traveller in 2006


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