Mission San Rafael Arcangel
The native people of Marin are the Coast Miwok. NANAGUANI was the name of the area that would become the city of San Rafael. Even in aboriginal times, Coast Miwok numbers were relatively small, between 1,500 and 2,000 people in Marin and Sonoma Counties. Sadly, their numbers got smaller with each incoming wave of settlers. By the 1850’s, the Miwok had declined to about 250 natives. Today the Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo are an active part of the North Bay.
Spanish exploration of what is now California began in the sixteenth century. In 1769, Fr. Junipero Serra established the first mission in San Diego. Over the following half century, the Spanish established their presence along the California coast. In attempts to counteract the Russian influence felt by the establishment of Fort Ross in what is now Sonoma County, Spanish missionaries pressed further northward into Marin.
Mission San Rafael Arcangel, the 20th of the California missions, was established as a helper, or asistencia, to Mission Dolores in December 1817. It was then that over 200 Indians and four Franciscan friars, Sarria, Abella, Duran and Taboada, traveled across the bay to found a hospital mission whose patron, Arcangel Rafael, is God’s healing messenger.
Asistencia San Rafael became an active farm and ranch on the northern edge of New Spain. The simple buildings, its orchards, farmlands and herds of livestock were the work of Indian peoples who were part of Mission San Rafael over its 17-year history. Their work led to the ranking of the asistencia as mission in its own right by late 1822. Fr. Juan Amoros, the resident missionary at San Rafael, served from 1819-1832.
Mission San Rafael was the first mission to be secularized in 1834. The chapel became the parish church for Mexican ranchers.
In 1846 The Bear Flag Revolt rocked sleepy San Rafael. General John C. Fremont captured the Mission and used it as headquarters for the United States military forces. He used the Chapel as a stable and the old Mission continued to deteriorate.
California was admitted to the Union in 1850. Marin County was one of the original 27 counties. For a time, county activities took place in the original Mission buildings. By 1861, the Mission buildings had fallen into disrepair and were torn down. A few years earlier, a small wooden chapel had been built on the Mission grounds. By 1869 the first parish church was under construction to accomodate a growing Catholic population in San Rafael. The cemetery was the last active part of the old mission and served as a final resting place for Native American Indians and others, including Chief Marin and Fr. Juan Amoros.
In 1909, the Native Sons of the Golden West erected a mission bell sign at the site.The Mission “replica” was constructed in 1949 with a grant from the Hearst Foundation. The grounds of the old Mission are in downtown San Rafael, a modern city and center of commerce in Marin County. The site includes statuary and monuments to both the founder of the California missions, Fr. Junipero Serra, and Chief Marin, the Huimen Indian and namesake of Marin County.
The mission museum contains artifacts, paintings and other objects for public viewing including three of the original bells from Mission San Rafael Arcangel. Mission San Rafael Arcangel is today part of Saint Raphael Church and serves as a functioning house of worship.