San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo


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Founded: June 3, 1770

Founder: Father Junipero Serra

Status: Active Roman Catholic Church and Minor Basilica

Indian tribes native to surrounding area: Costanoan, Esselen

Nickname: The Father of the Missions

Location: 3080 Rio Road, Carmel, CA 93923

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The second mission was built some 650 miles from San Diego, at Monterey, California.

Like Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the mission at Carmel was easily accessible by sea, with good anchorage in nearby Monterey Bay. Also like San Diego, this second mission was located adjacent to one of four Spanish Presidios (or military forts); a year later the mission was relocated a few miles to what is present day Carmel, California, to avoid the influence of the soldiers stationed at the Presidio.

The presence of the Presidio did not protect the settlement at Monterey. In 1818, the French pirate Hipólito Bouchard attacked the presidio with a large force. The badly outnumbered Spanish defenders withdrew, and Bouchard sacked and burned the Presidio and the town of Monterey. Ironically, the mission was unharmed.

Father Junipero Serra made Mission Carmel the headquarters of the California Mission system (from 1770 to 1803), and Monterey became the first capital of the Alta California territory.

Notably, the mission was also home to California’s first library, made up of books brought by Serra and the other padres. Although it began modestly with a few dozen volumes, by 1820 it had over 2,000 books.

Key Events

1770 – Mission founded.

1771 – California mission headquarters moved to Carmel (until 1815)

1815 – California mission headquarters moved to La Purísima Concepción

1818 – The Presidio and the town of Monterey are attacked by French pirate Hipólito Bouchard.

1819 – California mission headquarters returned to Carmel (until 1824)

1824 – California mission headquarters moved to San José

1827 – California mission headquarters returned to Carmel (until 1830)

1830 – California mission headquarters moved to San José

1834 – Mission secularized.

1859 – Mission returned to the Catholic church.

1961 – The mission was formally designated a Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII.

2015 – The mission was vandalized and defaced with paint on September 28, apparently to protest the canonization of Junipero Serra just days before.

Visiting the Mission

San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is often called the most beautiful of the California Missions.

The main chapel is the burial site of Saint Junipero Serra, founder of the California Mission system. There is an elaborate memorial tomb, sculpted from travertine marble in 1924, depicting Father Serra and three other mission pioneers.

The mission was restored to its present beautiful state in the 1930’s. Generous donations have allowed the mission to acquire an extensive collection of historical artifacts. Note the dissimilar bell towers, one with a Moorish-style dome. Many of the nine bells in the larger tower are original.

The Carmel mission Orchard House, built in 1774, is the oldest residence in California.

Visiting the Monterey Presidio

Nothing remains of the Presidio, which once consisted of over 30 buildings, within a walled area 200 feet square. Today the site is home to the US Department of Defense Language Institute, which is not open to the general public.

Historic photo of Church at San Carlos mission, circa 1913
Historic photo of Church at San Carlos mission, circa 1913
Altar at mission church. Photo by Didier B (Sam67fr)
Altar at mission church.
Photo by Didier B (Sam67fr)
Indian cemetary at mission church. Photo by Didier B (Sam67fr)
Indian cemetary at mission church.
Photo by Didier B (Sam67fr)