Missions of el Camino Real de California

Text by Anupama Mande and Khédija Gadhoum

The most prominent Catholic frontier missionaries in the Americas during the colonial period were the Franciscans and the Jesuits, but in 1768 the Jesuits were expelled from the Americas by the Spanish monarch. Beginning in 1769 the monarch commissioned several expeditions from New Spain into Alta California. These expeditions included soldiers, missionaries, and indigenous peoples who had already been converted to Christianity in New Spain. The main goal was to construct a chain of missions along the Pacific Coast. Between 1769 and 1823 twenty-one missions were established there. The construction of the missions was an economical colonial enterprise. A couple of priests and a small number of soldiers laid the foundations of some permanent settlements. 

Although many people played important roles in the establishment of the twenty-one missions, two individuals, Fray Junípero Serra and Fray Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, are particularly noteworthy, each having established nine. The other three missions—Mission Santa Inés (1804), Mission San Rafael Arcángel (1817), and Mission San Francisco (1823)—were built only a few years before the secularization that resulted from Mexico’s independence from Spain. After 1773, upon the recommendation of Father Serra, who was president of the California Missions, the Franciscans focused on building missions in Alta California, and the Dominicans built in Baja California. Thus, the division of California into two distinct parts served administrative as well as clerical purposes.

These messengers of the Catholic faith primarily were charged with converting the indigenous peoples to Christianity, and many received financial support from the monarch, as their work also contributed to Spain's expansion of power. By design, the assignment was to be temporary: upon successful completion of their missions, priests were to move to other frontier areas, spreading their message to new indigenous groups. However, in many places the missionaries remained for extended periods. 

In July 2009, Anupama Mande, Professor of Latin American and World History at Fullerton College, and Khédija Gadhoum, Assistant Professor of Spanish at Clayton State University, traveled to California's twenty-one Franciscan missions. They are currently making short videos about the missions for classroom and other educational uses.  

The missions in Alta California are listed below in the order of their establishment. 
• San Diego de Alcalá, July 16, 1769
• San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, June 3, 1770
• San Antonio de Padua, July 14, 1771 
• San Gabriel Arcángel, September 8, 1771 
• San Luís Obispo de Tolosa, September 1, 1772 
• San Francisco de Asís, October 9, 1776 
• San Juan de Capistrano, November 1, 1776 
• Santa Clara de Asís, January 12, 1777 
• San Buenaventura, March 31, 1782 
• Santa Bárbara, December 4, 1786 
• La Purísima Concepción, December 8, 1787
• Santa Cruz, September 25, 1791
• Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, October 9, 1791
• San José, June 11, 1797
• San Juan Bautista, June 24, 1797
• San Miguel Arcángel, July 25, 1797
• San Fernando Rey de España, September 8, 1797
• San Luís Rey de Francia, June 13, 1798 
• Santa Inés, September 17, 1804 
• San Rafael Arcángel, December 14, 1817 
• San Francisco de Solano, July 4, 1823