San Rafael Arcángel

Mission San Rafael
Mission San Rafael. Image courtesy Santa Barbara Mission Archive-Library.

History of Mission San Rafael Arcángel

Mission San Rafael Arcángel, founded as an asistencia on December 4, 1817 by Jose Vicente de Sarría, is the second to last in the chain of twenty-one California missions. Named after Saint Raphael the Arcángel, the angel of bodily healing, Mission San Rafael began as an asistencia, or helper, to Mission Dolores and the ill northern-California Indians devastated by the inclimate weather in San Francisco.

Founders were not sure this asistencia would be successful, but within a year there were nearly three hundred Indians, some from San Francisco and others who came from neighboring areas in Marin County. San Rafael became an active ranch with simple buildings, orchards, livestock, farmlands and an active boat-building operation. After five years, in October 1822, it was decided that San Rafael could be a mission.

Mission San Rafael was the first mission to be secularized and by 1861 the buildings had fallen into disrepair and eventually razed in 1870. In 1909 the Native Sons of the Golden West erected a bell and sign on the original site of the mission and in 1940, with a grant from the Hearst Foundation, a replica of the original 1818 structure was erected. The church at Mission San Rafael, one of the smallest in the chain, is highlighted by a striking star shaped window, or Mudéjar, similar to that at Mission Carmel. Like Mission Dolores in San Francisco, San Rafael is overshadowed by an adjacent towering church tower.

From Inside the California Missions
© David A. Bolton

Quick Facts

  • 20th mission
  • Founded as an Asistencia on 12/4/1817 by Jose Vicente de Sarria
  • Named after Rafael the Archangel, the angel of bodily healing
  • Helper” mission for the increasingly ill Indians at nearby Mission Dolores
  • In 1822, the fathers decided it could be a full-fledged mission
  • Its replica church is one of the smallest in the chain
  • Star-shaped window
  • Original was built in 1818, abandoned in 1842, razed in 1870, rebuilt in 1949, with help from the Hearst Foundations
  • Like Dolores, San Rafael is overshadowed by an adjacent, towering chapel
  • First mission to be secularized in Alta California
  • Served under four flags: Spain, Mexico, California, U.S.

1104 Fifth Ave.
San Rafael, CA 94901
Tel: 415-456-3016

Landmark Status
California Historic Landmark #220

Directions to the Mission
From US-101 : Exit from US-101 at Central San Rafael.  Turn left onto 5th Street. The mission is at Fifth and A Street.

Hours of Operation
11a - 4p daily. Please call 415-456-3016 to confirm.

Gift Shop

Tours for groups of 10 or more (call 415-456-3016).