Brief History of Santa Clara de Asís

It was the intention of the padres to found another mission in pretty meadowland a few miles south of San Francisco Bay as soon as the San Francisco mission was well established. The mission of Santa Clara indeed was established only three months later on January 12, 1777. To the dismay of the missionaries, in six more months there arrived a large group of colonists from Mexico. The padres did their best to keep the mission and the pueblo separated, well knowing the detrimental influence of civilians on the neophytes. Ultimately, mission and pueblo grew into the twin cities of Santa Clara and San Jose.

Interior detail at Mission Santa Clara de Asís

In 1784 the mission had to be abandoned because of damage from a great flood. A new site on higher ground was soon occupied, with the help of skilled artisans from the pueblo whose work gave the buildings a much more professional appearance. Yet this skill came to naught in 1818 when an earthquake effectively destroyed the mission again. With seemingly boundless energy the padres built a third time, with everything completed by 1825.

Natural disasters did not prevent Mission Santa Clara from achieving great prosperity, being exceeded at the time only by San Gabriel in the importance of its possessions. Under Mexican authority mission activity disappeared, however. In 1851 the property was given to the Jesuits who founded, and still maintain, the University of Santa Clara on the old mission site. Today a section of garden wall on the campus is all that remains of original mission buildings. Today’s university chapel was built after the fire of 1926 and its design is a faithful reproduction of the old mission church of a century earlier. The bell tower contains the original bells sent from Spain so long ago.