Brief History of Santa Clara de Asís

The Franciscan Padres intended 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. As expected, mission Santa Clara de Asís was established only three months later, on January 12, 1777. To the dismay of the missionaries, within six months, a large group of colonists from Mexico also arrived at the same spot. The Padres did their best to keep the mission and the pueblo separated, knowing well the detrimental influence of civilians over 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 1779, Mission Santa Clara 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 destroyed the mission again. With seemingly boundless energy, the Padres rebuilt the mission another time, completing it in 1825.

Natural disasters did not prevent Mission Santa Clara de Asís from achieving great prosperity, being exceeded at the time only by San Gabriel in the importance of its possessions. Under the Mexican Authority, however, mission activities vanished. In 1851, the mission properties were granted to the Jesuits, who founded, and still maintain, the University of Santa Clara on the old mission site. Today, a section of the garden wall on the campus is all that remains of the 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.