Brief History of San Gabriel Arcángel

The fourth of the California missions, San Gabriel Arcángel, had three sites. The place proposed originally was well inland from the ocean on the river now called Santa Ana. After arriving there, the founders decided to look for a better location. Moving overland, they crossed the San Gabriel River, and on September 8, 1771, founded the mission near the present city of Montebello. Five years later they had found an even better site five miles closer to the mountains, and moved the mission to its present location in 1776. On that fertile plain San Gabriel became the wealthiest of all the early missions. Construction of the buildings seen today began in 1796.

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An event of great importance occurred in 1781, when a little party of two padres, several Indian acolytes, and eleven families marched nine miles westward to found El Pueblo de Nuestra Reina de Los Angeles (the City of our Lady Queen of the Angels), today’s Los Angeles, magic city of the Southland.

San Gabriel suffered through the usual problems with greedy politicians and land-hungry colonists in this most favored of all southern California locations. With the Mexican decrees of secularization, the civilians had won. Mission San Gabriel was turned over to a civil administrator in 1834. Within ten years everything of any value had been removed. As usual, the ubiquitous Pio Pico was involved, but his sale of mission property to a friend was halted by the arrival of U. S. troops.

The church at old Mission San Gabriel was heavily damaged by the Whittier earthquake. Now the damage has been repaired and the entire structure strengthened. Other areas are continually being restored. The church is open to the public, and the ancient cemetery, the cactus garden, and much of historical interest may be seen on the grounds. Today San Gabriel possesses perhaps the finest collection of mission relics in existence. Its hammered copper baptismal font was the gift of King Carlos III of Spain in 1771. The six priceless altar statues were brought around the Horn from Spain in 1791