In 1771, there were two missions in California - at San Diego and Carmel, more than 400 miles apart. When more Franciscan missionaries arrived at Father Serra's headquarters that year, he decided to build more missions to close the gaps. In the summer of 1771, two more missions were established: San Antonio de Padua and San Gabriel Mission.
San Gabriel Mission, named for the Arcangel Gabriel, was founded on September 8, 1771 by Fathers Pedro Cambon and Angel Somera. It was the fourth in a chain of 21. The original plan was to place it on the Santa Ana River, but when the founders arrived, they went further inland to found the mission near the San Gabriel River.
Legend claims that the native chiefs tried to prevent the fathers from building. Afraid of a bloody battle, they showed the chiefs a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows and the chiefs immediately threw down their bows and arrows.
The Indians were friendly in the beginning and helped with the building. Baptisms began immediately after the founding. However, relationships with the Indians turned bad because of the soldiers. One of the soldiers attacked a chief's wife and killed her husband when he objected. Fortunately, the fathers acted quickly and had the guilty soldier sent to another location.
In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza arrived from Mexico City, establishing a land route that placed San Gabriel Mission near a busy crossroads. Its location made it one of the most important missions. In 1775, the fathers found a better site closer to the mountains and it was moved. In 1776, Fathers Sanchez and Cruzado took over the mission. They ran it for the next thirty years. They began church construction in 1779.
In 1781, two fathers, several Indians and eleven families left and traveled nine miles west to form El Pueblo de Nuestra la Reina del Los Angeles (The City of our Lady Queen of the Angels), the present city of Los Angeles.
San Gabriel Mission in the 1800-1830s
In 1805, both father Sanchez and Cruzado died, shortly before the building was completed. Father Jose Zalvidea came in 1805 and stayed for the next twenty years.
After Mexico won independence from Spain, the missions were secularized. Originally, the lands were supposed to be transferred to the natives, but in the end most of the land fell into the hands of dishonest politicians and their friends, and the place was turned over to a civil administrator in 1834. Within ten years, the San Gabriel Mission was stripped of all its valuables. Pio Pico tried to sell the mission to a friend, but he was stopped when United States soldiers arrived. In 1862, Congress returned the land to the Catholic church.