Article and Photographs by David Martines
Located in the Salinas Valley of California, Mission San Miguel is the sixteenth Spanish Mission along the the El Camino Real. The two hundred year old structure is made primarily from un-fired adobe bricks, and local pine. The delicate nature of the materials makes this building very fragile, and difficult to conserve.
When the foundations were completed in 1816, this Spanish Mission was merely a way point between more significant Missions. It was a remote, hot, dusty, and dangerous place to live, or travel to.
One could image a weary buck-board driver, delivering Pine beams, from the distant coastal village of Cambria, arriving to find the hot and dusty location buzzing with workshop activity. They would surely wonder: How was the water? Will there be wine? Food? Protection from the elements?
The Mission and walls were constructed by the Local Salinan people. Thousands of these Native Americans lived near the Mission, and more than two thousand Salinan Native Americans are buried on the Mission grounds.
Since its beginning, the church has had many hardships and changes in ownership, that have resulted in extreme deferred maintenance, poor attempts at conservation, and destructive weathering and wear, on the many unprotected adobe dirt blocks.
The Mission had been secularized and controlled by a civilian administrator during Mexico’s move to independence. Without the guidance from the builders and Mission fathers, it quickly deteriorated.
During the Goldrush in 1846, the Mission was privately owned by a family that had converted the Mission to commercial stores, a hotel, and a saloon.
But on a dark and wicked night, a desperate gang of murderers slaughtered ten inhabitants of the Mission, and at least one member of the pursuing posse. The gang had been to the Mission earlier that day, but had doubled back to steal the gold they had sold to the owner of the house.
The gang was captured, and the ones that didn’t kill themselves faced a firing squad.
In 1859, President Buchanon returned the Mission to the Catholic Church, and they established the Parish of San Miguel.
The mission is currently occupied and administered by Franscican Friars. However, it is currently closed to the public for safety reasons.
The Doors of the Arcade.
The Mission arcade, behind the presidio walls, house the churches administrative offices, gift shops, and museums.
Although the Mission interiors are closed to the public, the grounds are still open. You can still stroll amongst the beautiful old crumbling walls, admire the patina of the timeless Spanish architecture, and perhaps appreciate the craftsmanship, of the long gone Salinan craftsmen, who’s hands have formed every inch of this handmade relic.