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Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Carmela

The Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is the 2nd mission founded in California. It was founded on June 3rd, 1770 by Friar Junipero Serra at the Presidio of Monterey and moved to Carmel the following year. Named for Saint Charles Borromeo a Cardinal of the 16th Century.

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Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Carmela History

The current mission is the seventh in a series of churches that stretch back to 1771 when the first crude shelter of logs was erected in Carmel after moving from the Presidio of Monterey. Considered the most beautiful of all the California Missions, the present rough-hewn stone church reflects the design of a master-mason, brought to a crude perfection by the Indian apprentices.

The first settlement at Monterey was found to be inadequate due to the unsuitability for crops, the lack of natives living around the bay and the close proximity to the presidial garrison. Friar Serra found the present sit on the hillside in Carmel Valley overlooking a fertile plain and was within “two gunshots” (2,400-2,800 feet) from the sea. Six months later the first wooden chapel was complete along with the dwelling, the storehouse, a soldiers’ quarters and a corral with all surrounded by a palisade.

Mission San Carlos Borremeo del Rio Carmelo become Friar Serra’s headquarters for the entire mission chian. He lived in a tiny cell about a hundred yards from the church. It was a small room, with only a cot of boards, a single blanket, a table and chair, a chest, a candlestick, and a gourd. Friar Serra was rarely there as he spent a good deal of his time traveling to each of the emissions spread out over five hundred miles.

Father Serra had planned on a stone church and had ordered the quarrying of stone for it in 1781. It is thought that he even sketch out the design. But he was not to see this completed, on August 28th, 1784 Friar Serra died at the age of 71 with his dear friend Friar Palou at his side. Friar Serra was interred in the sanctuary near the alter and next to his lifelong friend, Friar Crespi. When the adobe church was replaced by the present stately one of stone, his remains were kept at the same location.

Friar Palou passed the responsibilities of the Father-Presidency to Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen. Father Lasuen made Carmel his headquarters and based operations from this location for the next 18 years.

In 1791, a master mason, Manuel Ruiz arrived. He designed and built the Royal Chapel at Monterey and the stone church at the mission. The cornerstone was laid in 1793 and the building itself was dedicated four years later with a grand fiesta.

In 1803, Father Lasuen died and was buried alongside Friar Serra in the sanctuary of the great stone church. His successor transferred mission authority to Santa Barbara where it remained for several years.

In November of 1818 two vessels of the pirate Bouchard arrived at Monterey. Four hundred of this men landed and set torch to Monterey and the presidio. They destroyed some $5,000 worth of supplies. The Governor and his 25-man defense force retreated to Salinas. The mission was evacuated. But upon return the mission was unharmed. It is unknown if the pirates men ever came near the mission.

After secularization in 1834, the land around the mission was sold, right up to the walls of the church. Services continued to be held even though the roof beams rotted and gave way in 1851. In 1882, the resident pastor of Monterey, Friar Angelo Casanova opened the tombs in the sanctuary to quiet rumors that Friar Serra’s body had been removed. The remains were identified and the tombs were resealed. Two years later, Fr. Casanova conducted as successful campaign to repair the church in time for ceremonies to honor the centennial of Father Serra’s death. A shingle roof was built over the church. For years, this steep pitch roof was critiziced but remained in place for over 50 years. In the 1930’s Harry Downie rebuilt the mission after painstaking research into the physical and written records. The church today is one of the most authentic restorations of the entire mission chain.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo is honored as a basilicia because of its historic importance and connection with the work of Father Junipero Serra.