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Mission San Francisco de Asis

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History of Mission San Francisco de Asis: 1776 to Present Day

On June 17, 1776, Lieutenant Jose Moraga, 16 soldiers and small group of colonists left the Monterey Presidio for San Francisco Bay. The party included wives and children of the soldiers, as well as some Spanish-American settlers. They brought about 200 head of cattle along. Most of the supplies for the new settlements were sent by sea in the ship San Carlos, which left at the same time as the land party.

Among the travelers were Fathers Francisco Palou and Pedro Cambon. It was a four day journey. When they arrived, they set up a camp on the bank of a lake, originally discovered by the explorer de Anza and named Laguna de Nuestra Senora de los Dolores (Lake of our Lady of Sorrows).

The commander ordered an arbor to be constructed, and the Fathers celebrated the first mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 27, 1776 - just five days before the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia. The Mexican authorities had promised Father Serra that he could name the newest in the chain after his patron saint if his saint found a port. This location had one, so it was named after Saint Francis. However, it later came to be called Mission Dolores instead.

On August 18, the ship San Carlos arrived. Construction of Mission Dolores began immediately. Dedication was postponed while the Fathers awaited word from Captain Rivera. Rivera, didn't want to build Mission Dolores, but his superior the Viceroy in Mexico City disagreed. The Fathers waited for weeks to hear from Rivera, but finally decided to go ahead with the dedication on October 9, after receiving the needed church documents. Some say this date is the official date of the founding, and it is the date that Father Palao recorded in the church records. However, many use the June 26 date.

Early Years of Mission Dolores

Mission Dolores soon became popular with the natives of the area, who enjoyed the food and protection it offered. Some say they did not understand the Spaniards' complex religious ideas, while others say the priests were too harsh and strict with them. Whatever the reason, many of them ran away from Mission Dolores (200 in 1796 alone). The problem with runaways was worse here, where the natives had many temptations from the nearby presidio as well as other natives across the bay. Runaways also caused tensions with the military, who grew tired of going out to retrieve them.

After moving the Mission Dolores church several times, the current chapel was built and completed in 1791.

Mission Dolores 1800-1820

The damp weather and diseases carried by the foreigners took their toll on the native neophytes, and 5,000 of them died during a measles epidemic. Those who survived suffered in the damp climate, and the priests wanted to find a better place for them to recover. In 1817, the Fathers opened a hospital in San Rafael, north of the bay, where the weather was better.

Mission Dolores in the 1820s-1830s

In the 1830s, the place began to be called Mission Dolores, after the nearby creek and lagoon, and also to differentiate it from San Francisco Solano.

Secularization and Mission Dolores

In 1834, Mexico decided to close Mission Dolores and all the others, and sell the land. Mission Dolores was the first to be secularized. The Indians did not want to come back, and no one would buy it, so it remained the property of the Mexican government. In 1846, California became part of the United States, and American priests took over.

When the California Gold Rush began in 1849, the area became a popular place for horse racing, gambling and drinking. Land reforms took the land away, and soon there were more Irish than Spanish grave markers in the old cemetery.

Mission Dolores in the 20th Century

The old Mission Dolores building is surrounded by the city today. The church and its cemetery are all that survive of the original complex, but it continues to serve the people of the neighborhood and masses are sometimes held in it. However, most services are held in the newer basilica next door.

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