Brief History of San Miguel Arcángel

On July 25, 1797, Mission San Miguel Arcángel was founded in a fine valley near the juncture of the Salinas and Nacimiento Rivers. The spot was chosen, also, because it could be a stopping place halfway between the San Luis Obispo and San Antonio Missions. These native Americans already knew about mission activities in the adjoining areas, and great numbers came to welcome the padres.

Soon San Miguel was quite prosperous, despite poor soil and the excessively hot climate when compared to the coastal regions. Hundreds of Indians worked in the fields and vineyards, and as hersdmen. Others learned simple trades as carpenters, masons, blacksmiths, weavers, soap makers, leather workers, cooks and butchers. There were even native artists whose work has endured to this day.

Old Postcard of Mission San Miguel Arcángel

Without architect or engineer, the padres built a plain, rectangular adobe church lacking a bell tower. Roof and ceiling beams had to be brought from mountains 40 miles away. Then Estevan Munras, of Monterey, came to San Miguel and taught a few Indians the art of fresco painting. They decorated the bare walls of the church with intricate designs which are still clear, and have not been retouched.

Originally Mission San Miguel controlled lands up and down the Salinas River for 50 miles, and operated a rancho at San Simeon, on the coast. Eventually all was taken over by Mexican, then American settlers. The last padre left San Miguel in 1840, and the buildings were soon sold. The monastery became a shopping center, including the most popular saloon on El Camino Real.

What was left of San Miguel was taken back by the Church in 1878. The Franciscans returned in 1928. Since that time an amazing recovery has been made, the years of neglect erased. The monastery building, now a museum, is fronted by a colonnade of arches where visitors stand in the shade to look out to a famous cactus garden.