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The Mission San Gabriel Arcangel is the 4th mission founded in California. It was founded on September 8th, 1771 by Friars Pedro Cambon and Friar Angel Somera. Named for the Archangel Gabriel, the angel of the annunciation sent to Mary at Nazareth to tell her of her destiny. He also came to Zachary and told him of the birth of John the Baptist. The prophet Daniel heard of the coming of the Messiah from this angel.
Set astride three well-traveled trails, two from Mexico to Alta California, and one, at a later period, from the East Coast of the United States to California, this mission was a wayside stop for the most anyone traveling to California. The mission was constantly overrun by the military, whose behavior constantly tried the patience of the mission fathers. Due to this element, the mission was in constant trouble with the natives.
Founded approximately nine miles east of the heart of present-day Los Angeles on a site selected by Father-President Serra near the river known as the Santa Ana, but named by its discovered as the Rio de los Temblores because of four severe earthquakes felt on the day of its discovery.
When Fathers Cambon and Somera arrived, a large band of natives surrounded the expedition and fearing an attack, the friars unfurled a large banner with the painting of the Virgin on one side of it. The natives threw down their bows and arrows and the two of the chieftains placed their bead necklaces at the feet of the “Beautiful Queen”. The painting, whose influence was seen as nothing less than miraculous, is now some 300 years old and still venerated and on display in the mission sanctuary.
In spite of the success of this encounter, the mission moved to the nearby San Miguel Valley and on a hill they raised the large cross and celebrated first mass. The local natives assisted in the building of the temporary chapel and other necessary structures, a stockade of poles enclosed the buildings in case the natives changed their minds and attacked.
Unfortunately an incident of misconduct by one of the soldiers destroyed the natives confidence in the missionaries and created a lasting hatred of the military. A soldier assault the wife of the native chief. To avenge this wrong, the chief, with a large band of natives, charged the culprit in an attempt to kill him, and was himself killed in the skirmish. The corporal of the soldier-guard cut off the head of the chief and impaled it on a pole to warn against further attacks. The local tribesmen came to beg for the head of their chief and no further attacks were made but it was a long time before they themselves were seen at the mission again.
Fathers Paterna and Crusado replaced the previous friars when they became to ill to continue their work. The gentleness of these two missionaries went a long way to restoring the confidence of the natives.
In 1772, visiting Father Palou and Father Lasuen passed through and recommended moving to a better site. In 1775, the mission finally moved to avoid the spring floods that ruined the first crops. In that year, the Anza party arrived and took Father Paterna with them to put down the uprising in San Diego. They left Father Sanchez in his place. Father Cruzado and Father Sanchez worked for nearly thirty years making San Gabriel the heart of the agricultural development in the area. San Garbiel became so prosperous that it became known as “The Queen of the Missions.” It produced abundant crops of corn and beans, while building great herds of cattle. San Gabriel became famous for its fine wines.
In 1779, a new church, build of stone and concrete up to the windows and brick from there on up was started. A vaulted concrete roof, eventually cracked by earthquakes, was replaced in 1803 by a flat tile roof. In 1805 the church was completed, but Fathers Cruzado and Sanchez both died the same year never seeing it completed.
Father Jose Zalvidea for the next 20 years carried on the missions work. In 1812, an earthquake greatly damaged the monastery and toppled the church tower, which at the time was at the front of the church. The padres moved into the granary and converted it into a temporary chapel. In 1828, the church was completely restored. The new bell-tower was erected at the far end of the side wall. Three rows of arched openings held the bells.
Secularization in 1834 destroyed the mission, by 1843 the mission properties were but ruined buildings and half-starved natives. In 1859 Present Buchanan restored the church to the Catholic Church, it was used as a parish church until 1908, when it became the property of the Claretian Fathers.
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