Brief History of La Soledad

When Mission Nuestra Señora de La Soledad was founded on October 9, 1791, the “Golden Age” was beginning for the California missions, and there was anticipation for another successful venture. The lonely spot had been named by Portolá, and thus logically was called Our Lady of Solitude. The loneliness, the stubborn soil, and the damp winter winds all contributed to disappointment rather than content for resident padres.

The royal gifts which supposedly would equip the mission never arrived. The adobe buildings tended to disintegrate in summers which were too dry and in winters too wet. The neophyte population was never large and an epidemic in 1802 caused the death of many Indians and the loss of many others who fled. The last Franciscan at Soledad was Father Vicente Francisco de Sarria. He struggled alone to keep the buildings habitable, and minister to the few remaining Indians. One morning in 1835 his body was found at the foot of the altar. The little band of loyal followers carried his remains over the hills to Mission San Antonio. Soledad died that day, too. Pio Pico received just $800 for what was left. Although the site of the mission buildings eventually was returned to the Church by the United States, nothing remained but stubs of adobe walls. The lonely place was not reoccupied.

Painting of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad by Edwin Deakin 1899

In recent years, when restoration was begun at Soledad, the floor of the mission church was found intact under layers of silt from flood waters. It is still there, being preserved under the same silt. A storeroom had been used as a chapel for the tiny congregation after the loss of the church.
In its beautiful but lonely location many miles from any town this mission more than any other looks just as it did in early Spanish times. Entirely of adobe construction, Soledad Mission fell completely into ruin after its forced abandonment.

Recent rebuilding projects have recreated one side of the quadrangle, as well as the old chapel. Location of the church which washed away in a flood has been found, the tile floor intact. An interesting museum is housed in the rebuilt rooms. The stubs of adobe walls still mark the exact locations of the remainder of the old quadrangle. Irrigation water and loving care have turned the area into a beautiful garden.