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Mission Dolores

Part 1
Entry Author: Br. Guire Cleary, S.S.F

Mission Dolores ca August 14, 1956 Photo ID#AAB-0664
Photo used with permission from San Francisco Public Library

San Francisco's oldest intact building is the principal remaining physical monument of the Spanish Empire and Mexican Republic in the region of the San Francisco Bay. The mission is named after the founder of the Franciscan Order, Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). Founded under the direction of Fray Junípero Serra, it is the sixth Franciscan mission to be established in Alta California. A story is recounted by California's first historian and the first Franciscan pastor of Mission Dolores, Fray Francisco Palóu about the naming of San Francisco. In 1768 José de Gálvez, the Inspector General of Mexico, informed Junípero Serra of the names to be given to the missions to be established in Alta California. Serra remonstrated saying, "Is there then to be no mission for Our Father San Francisco?" Gálvez jested, "If San Francisco wants a mission, let him cause his port to be discovered, and it will be placed there!" It was not until Sergeant José Francisco Ortega, under command of Gaspár de Portolá, sighted the Golden Gate and the San Francisco Bay on November 1, 1769 that Europeans became aware of the existence of the immense bay and its beautiful passage through the coastal mountains. San Francisco had led Spain to its port.

In 1774, an expedition led by Captain Fernando Rivera y Moncada began explorations for a suitable site for the mission of San Francisco. Accompanying the expedition was Fray Francisco Palóu. Presents were made to Ssalson Ohlone people of beads and Spanish food, including wheat and beans. Palóu records in his diary that the Indians were much taken with the products of European culture and Palóu promised that he would return and help the First Peoples to plant seeds and gather them in great abundance. Palóu believed that the Ohlone were pleased, understood him and would help build houses when he returned to establish a mission.

Viceroy Antonio Maria Bucareli y Ursúa, concerned about the possibility of Russian encroachment on what he held to be Spanish territory, ordered Captain Juan Bautista De Anza to recruit soldiers and settlers in Sonora, Mexico and establish a Mission and Presidio in the port of San Francisco. Mission San Francisco de Asís has as its common name "Mission Dolores," taken from the name of the now vanished Lake Dolores and Dolores Creek. The Señor Commandante, Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza, who explored the creek and lake on the Friday before Palm Sunday, April 5, 1776, gave the name "Dolores". This day was traditionally called the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (Nuestra Señora de los Dolores). On June 27, 1776 the colonists under the command of Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga arrived along the shore of Laguna Dolores, near what is now Albion and Camp Streets in the Mission District. Two Franciscan padres, Fray Francisco Palóu and Fray Benito Cambón, accompanied them. Under an arbor (enramada) built by Moraga's soldiers, Fray Francisco Palóu celebrated the first Mass on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, June 29, 1776. [Much innocent ink has been spilt over the issue of whether this date of June 29, 1776 is the "official birthday" of the mission and of the city of San Francisco. The author of this article is inclined to October 9, 1776 as the ecclesial dedication of the mission church, but is prepared to celebrate all reasonable dates and solicits invitations to all parties commemorating same.] Moraga's soldiers remained about a month and withdrew to found the Royal Presidio near the Golden Gate.

Fray Junípero Serra was a philosopher of the school of John Dun Scotus who believed that God is love and that this love is manifested within communities and relationships. The effort of missionization was to create Christian communities where God would be revealed. Central to the goals of the Franciscans at Mission Dolores was the idea of ingathering of native peoples into villages (reducion), inculcation of Christian doctrine and morality, and European cultural values, establishment of Spanish law and government, and the creation of townships of Hispanicized farmers and artisans out of the indigenous population. Spanish law guaranteed that Indian tribes entering the mission system would have their lands preserved intact under the management of the mission padres. The intention was to have self-governing pueblos in place within 10 years. This was the plan and hope of missionization: that Indians would be attracted by European technology and culture and, establishing their homes near missions, would ultimately accept Christianity and Spanish rule. The labor, creativity, and skills of the Indians of the Bay Area created an astonishingly complex ranching, agricultural, and manufacturing enterprise at Mission Dolores and the other missions of California. While the process of conversion to Christianity was mostly voluntary, once baptized an Indian became the ward of the mission and subject to what to our era must appear to be oppressive and controlling in the extreme.

The missionaries turned their attention to the establishment of the mission and the conversion of Ohlone Indians in the nearby village of Chutchui. Palóu inscribed the register of the mission on August 1, 1776 with the words, "…the Mission of Our Father San Francisco, founded by Religious of the holy Apostolic College of San Fernando at this Port of the same name of our Father San Francisco in Northern California, through the favor and at the expense of our Catholic Monarch, the King of Spain, Don Carlos III…commenced at the same time that it was founded in the vicinity of the new presidio of the same name of San Francisco…" The mission was formally opened on October 9, 1776. The first adult Indian baptism took place on June 24, 1777 when Chamis, a 20-year-old Ohlone man, was baptized and given the Christian name of Francisco Moraga. Lieut. José Joaquin Moraga acted as godfather. Chamis later became the first Indian married at Mission Dolores, taking Paszém as his wife on April 24,1778.

Several temporary chapels were built at Mission Dolores and the foundation stones of the present mission church were laid in 1783. Some 26,000 adobe bricks were made by 1788, and the walls were largely in place by the end of that year. The church was dedicated on August 2, 1791, making it the oldest intact church nave in California. Roof tiles were laid on in 1794-1795. Within a few years, other adobe buildings were added for housing, ranching, agricultural, and manufacturing enterprises. At its peak in 1810-1820, the average Indian population at Pueblo Dolores was about 1,100 persons. The California missions were not only houses of worship. They were farming communities, manufacturers of all sorts of products, hotels, ranches, hospitals, schools, and the centers of the largest communities in the state. Gov. Figueroa said of the California missions in 1834, "Military and civilians depended on missions, (which) made loans, hostels where travelers and poor received food, lodging, horses, or whatever they wanted free of charge. California missions were the sole source of the prosperity of the territory." Mission Dolores at the peak of its prosperity in 1810 owned 11,000 sheep, 11,000 cows, and thousands of horses, goats, pigs, and mules. Its ranching and farming operations extended as far south as San Mateo and east to Alameda. Horses were corralled on Potrero Hill, and the milking sheds for the cows were located along Dolores Creek at what is today Mission High School. Twenty looms were kept in operation to process wool into cloth. The circumference of its holdings was said to have been about 125 miles.

Setbacks at Mission Dolores included a mass exodus of 280 people in the summer of 1795 due to the three muchos: too much work, too much punishment, and too much hunger. Periodic epidemics of measles, smallpox, and diphtheria drastically reduced mission populations. Syphilis and bacterial infections took immense tolls. Padre Ramon Abella recorded the following sad note in the Burial Register at Mission Dolores on July 22, 1814, "Today I buried Viridiana, the last of the adults who witnessed the founding of the mission…Everyone who saw the arrival of the missionaries…have died; and of those who have been born since that time, rare are those who live." The imposition of a communal labor and living system on the native population made possible exposure to European technology, resources, and commerce but at a cost that still engenders debate. Many hold that the majority of the padres were selfless and motivated by religious and humanitarian goals. However, the results are questioned and still vigorously debated. By 1810 more than 5,000 years of tribal life in the Bay Area had effectively ended. Government support of the military in Alta California ceased with the inception of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810.

Tensions and disputes arose between the missions and the civil authorities when the missions were asked to supply food and manufactured goods to the military. After the Mexican Republic was established in 1821, pressure began to mount for the close of the missions. Politicians of the day debated whether lands and enterprises under mission custody would be acknowledged as owned by the Indian Christians and organized into townships or largely redistributed to the Mexican settlers. In 1834, Mission Dolores was ordered to be turned over to an administrator who valued the holdings at $67,227.60. The process of secularization meant that the missions would no longer manage the agricultural, ranching and manufacturing enterprises with their vast holdings of land and livestock. The missions would essentially be made into parish churches consisting of only the church proper, the residence of the priests and a small amount of land immediately surrounding the churches for use as kitchen gardens and cemeteries. By 1842, there were only eight Indian Christians resident at the mission. Spiritual needs of the parish were met by remaining Franciscans, but the situation of the parish was doubtful, and the last Franciscan, Fray José Real, withdrew to Santa Clara in 1845.

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Founded under the direction of Fray Junípero Serra
On November 1, 1769 Europeans became aware of the existence of the immense bay and its beautiful passage through the coastal mountains
"Mission Dolores," taken from the name of the now vanished Lake Dolores and Dolores Creek


> José Joaquin Moraga
> Fray Benito Cambón


+ Mission Dolores Basilica
+ First Church in San Francisco
+ California Mission history
+ Mission Dolores Mural Project


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