Friday, June 10, 2016

San Rafael Mission

Along the Mission Trail

Called "the most obliterated of California's missions," the poor San Rafael Arcangel Mission doesn't get a high rating on the mission trail, but who can resist beautiful Marin County and the lovely city of San Rafael?  Not me.

So on our way to San Francisco, we made a quick stop.  Happily, it was Palm Sunday so it made our visit a little more interesting; otherwise, folks, I'm not sure it was worth the stop.

Being a cradle Catholic, I was flooded with memories of those days prior to Easter when my mother dragged us to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Something Saturday and then, of course, the Biggie.   Four days of non-stop church going changed this little girl forever.  And not in the intended way!
This mission, located fifteen miles north of San Francisco, just across the Golden Gate Bridge, was never meant to be a full mission.  Rather, it started out as a hospital to help heal the Native Americans who were suffering from illnesses caused by the cold damp weather of the Bay Area (and cough, cough, foreign diseases brought by the good padres themselves.)  It was founded in 1817 and became Alta California's first sanitarium.  But because the city of San Rafael started to grow, so did this little hospital and in 1822, it gained full mission status.

This 20th mission had a short life of 17 years with its most prosperous year being 1826.  Nearly 1,000 Indians lived here at the time.  They raised cattle and grew crops, but what I found most interesting is the boat building operation which thrived here--the only mission to have one.  It makes sense, of course.  Boats were in great demand to ferry people back and forth across the bay.  No Golden Gate Bridge back then!
But why is it called "the most obliterated of California's missions?"  Because by 1870, there wasn't a single scrap left.  Not even a ruin.  The mission had been abandoned in 1842, although it did serve as the headquarters of John C. Fremont during the war with Mexico.

Today, a replica of the mission chapel stands to the right of the larger St. Rafael Church.  It is an active Catholic parish and part of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.  That Palm Sunday services were being held in the chapel, rather than the main church, allowed us to take a peak inside and then follow the festivities outside to the courtyard.

  This particular mission is very much a part of 2016.  And not the past. It belongs to the people of San Rafael and not to us history buffs who yearn to go back into time (at least for an hour or two.)

If ever I do write that guidebook "Along the Mission Trail," I think I would recommend passing this one up.  From San Francisco, head straight north to Sonoma.  After all, it was the mission that was never intended to be.  And yet . . . .and yet . . .even though once obliterated, Mission San Rafael Arcangel has risen from the dead.

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