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The California Missions

Carmel, California

Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo
del Rio Carmel
Picture of the past

Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo
del Rio Carmel
Present-day picture

  The "official name" for the Carmel mission is:
Basilica of Mission San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmel

Naming of the Mission:

The mission was named for Saint Charles Borromeo
Sometimes referred to as the "Father of the Missions" because the headquarters of the mission system was here at one time


The mission is located a mile south of the city of Carmel on Junipero Avenue


The Carmel Mission was the second of the California missions. It was founded on 3 June 1770 by Father Junipero Serra. It was one of the most beautiful of the missions and Father Serra used it as his headquarters.

Originally, the mission was not located in its present location. Two days after arriving in Monterey, Father Serra founded the Mission San Carlos Borromeo. It was first located at the present site of the San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey. Father Serra found he did not like the influence of the soldiers at the Presidio had on his Indians. He also found that the site there in Monterey was not good for growing crops. It was also a long way from where these Native Americans lived. Thus, just a year later permission was received by Father Serra to relocate. This was in May of 1771 and by July, the new site in the Carmel Valley, five miles away from Monterey, was being worked. Serra worked on the new mission himself, along with help from converted Indians, known as neophytes, from Baja California, five soldiers and three sailors. By 24 August of that year, the first mass was held at the new location. Serra officially moved into the new buildings on Christmas Eve, 1771.

Though the little group had officially occupied the buildings, there was still much work to be done. The first buildings were made of wood and wood poles. It was several years before more permanent quarters were established. Father Serra depended greatly on the local Indians for supplies at first. Later, the mission became self-sufficient by providing its own food and supplies. After the stone church was built, one could note the Moorish influence in the architecture. The inside chapel walls taper inward to form a catenary arch instead of the more normal flat ceiling. The bell tower has an outside stairway. The new church took four years to build, finally being dedicated in 1797.

Father Serra never lived to see the final completion of the beautiful new chapel. His dear friend, Father Juan Crespi, died on 1 January 1782. He was buried at the mission. Not long afterward, Father Serra began to experience ill health. He knew he would soon pass on and called for his friend, Father Francisco Palou, to come and prepare him. Father Serra died on 28 August 1784. He was buried next to his friend, Father Crespi, in front of the main altar of the church. Later, the current stone church was built around the adobe church. Father Lasuen took over the leadership at the death of Father Serra and he was also buried in the church when he passed on.

By 1823, the Indian population had shrunk greatly to only a few hundred. They did not have the immunity to European diseases that the newcomers had and many died. Father Jose Real led the mission in 1833 and in 1834, the mission was secularized. This meant that it became a normal parish church rather than a mission. The mission lands were divided up and the mission life was basically gone by 1836.

In 1884, Father Angel Casanova began to try to save the once beautiful mission. He added a wooden roof to help preserve the building, even though that type of roof was not consistent with the original architecture. But, it did help keep the church together until real restoration could begin. In 1931, Msgr. Philip Scher, pastor of the Presidio Church in Monterey, brought in a talented man, Harry Downie, to be in charge of the mission restoration. In 1933, now a Bishop, Scher elevated the mission to an independent parish. In 1961, the Mission was named as Minor Basilica by Pope John XXIII.

Mission Trivia:

When the mission began to deteriorate years and years ago, the fountain in the front courtyard disappeared. No one knew what happened to it and finally, it was presumed permanently lost. When the restoration was started, a new fountain was built in the front courtyard as a replacement. Many years later on 28 August 1984, the 200th anniversary of the death of Father Serra was celebrated at the mission. The original fountain was returned to the mission during this celebration. A local family had held the fountain for over a hundred years.

Contact the Mission:

Carmel Mission Basilica
3080 Rio Road
PO Box 2235
Carmel, CA 93921
Phone: 831-624-1271

Carmel Mission Links

California State historic Landmark #135

Carmel Mission page
This website includes history, services, location, drawings, floor plans, pictures and much more.

Good history page with pictures
(page sponsored by the Monterey County Historical Society)

Try this history page for the Mission
Carmel Mission history page

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This page was last updated on 29 June 2012 at 10:11 am

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