In many respects the story of the Spanish California missions is the story of California. The first mission of the eventual twenty-one to be built in California was founded in 1769 by Fray Junipero Serra in present day San Diego. The mission in Carmel, which officially was named Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, was also established by Father Serra two years later. This new land along the Pacific Ocean was named Alta California by the Spaniards. Exploration of the California coast however dates back to 1542 by the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. The mission construction would come much later when Fray Junipero Serra arrived. The Spaniards of course also explored up the Rio Grande River in what is now New Mexico and eventually founded Santa Fe in 1610. There was also the Coronado expedition which went north from Mexico (New Spain) and explored through Arizona and New Mexico starting in 1540. Coronado came in contact with many of the native population including the Zuni tribe in western New Mexico. Coronado was on his quest for the Seven Cities of Gold. The New Mexico missions were constructed a century earlier than those of California.
|Mission Carmel Bell Tower Dome|
The first mission in the immediate area was founded June 3, 1770, in nearby present day Monterey. This mission was named after Charles Borromeo of Milan Italy. Charles Borromeo was the cardinal archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Milan. Charles Borromeo is most noted for his efforts during the reformation period. He believed that many of the church abuses were caused simply by the ignorance of the clergy. As a result, Borromeo was credited with the establishment of colleges and seminaries. This new emphasis on learning helped better prepare candidates for the priesthood and in turn helped the community as a whole.
|Mission Carmel School|
Today, the Carmel Mission, sometimes referred to as Mission Carmelo or San Carlos Mission, is one of the most visited tourist sites in California. The National Park Service has designated it a National Historic Landmark and the mission is one of the oldest historic buildings in California. The Mission Carmel Basilica Church is the centerpiece of the Mission. Mission Carmel also serves as a museum, exhibiting its own history back to the time of it's founding in 1771. The Mission's excellent collection of Spanish Colonial Liturgical Art and Artifacts are displayed throughout the church. In all, there are four separate museums to visit on the grounds. The Harry Downie Museum which outlines the restoration efforts; the Munras Family Heritage Museum which details the history of one of Carmel's most important area families. The Muras family had a long history in the area as ranchers and traders. Esteban Muras originally came to the Monterey area from Spain about the time of the Mexican revolution. He was also a talented artist. Also at the mission is the Jo Mora Chapel Gallery which displays rotating art exhibits and the Convento Museum which holds the cell that Fray Junipero Serra lived and died in 1784. The history on display at Carmel Mission is some of the finest available regarding the Franciscan missions. Mission Carmel is an active church and school to this day and also is the site for various community events and lectures in Carmel-By-The-Sea. When you stroll through lovely Carmel by the Sea you will undoubtedly run across streets named after the mission. Streets such as San Carlos and Junipero.
(Photos from author's private collection)