Mission San Antonio de Padua


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San Antonio de Padua

Mission San Antonio de Padua
Mission Interior
Mission Altar
Mission Altar Detail
Mission Altar Detail
Madonna and Child
Mission Interior Front
Mission Interior Rear
Shrine Entrance
Shrine Statue
Doorway with Corridor
Mission Belltower

Third Mission
Date Founded: July 14, 1771
Founder: Father Junípero Serra
Named for: St. Anthony, who was laid to rest in Padua, Italy, when he died
San Antonio Mission
P.O. Box 803
Jolon, CA 93928

Hunter Liggett Military Reservation,
Jolon, CA 93928

Contact Information:
Phone: (831) 385-4478
Fax: (831) 386-9332

From Hwy 101:
North near Bradley, take Jolon Rd. West 26 miles to Jolon. Turn Left onto army base. Go 6 miles.

From Hwy 101:
South, just North of King City, take Jolon Rd. West 18 miles to Jolon. From Jolon, follow the signs.

From San Francisco:
175 south on Hiway 101. Take the exit marked Jolon Road (G14). There is also a historical sign announcing this exit. Once on Jolon Road, travel 18 miles. Take a right on Mission Creek Road. You will travel through the Fort Hunter Liggett military base entrance gate. Please continue 5 miles. The Mission is on your left with a well-marked sign.

From Los Angeles:
300 miles north on Hiway 101. Take the exit marked Jolon Road (G18). There is also a historical sign announcing this exit. Once on Jolon Road, travel 22 miles. Take a left on Mission Creek Road. You will travel through the Fort Hunter Liggett military base entrace gate. Please continue 5 miles. The Mission is on your left with a well-marked sign.



San Buenaventura was meant to be the third mission, but conditions were deemed not right for its founding, and Fr. Junípero Serra did not want to wait. He decided to establish the new mission in the San Antonio Valley, in southwestern Monterey County. This location had been favored by the Portolá expedition in 1769. They had given their campsite the name "La Hoya de la Sierra de Santa Lucia." This valley, at the foot of the Santa Lucia Mountains was known by Serra as the "Valley of the Oaks" (Los Robles).

Establishment of Mission San Antonio de Padua

Early in July, 1771, a little party of Spanish missionaries, headed by three Franciscan padres, walked into a beautiful, oak-mantled valley near the coastal region of central California. Here they pitched their camp and, as was their custom, began to prepare for the devotional services to be performed before the day was done. A large bronze bell was lifted from its place upon a mule-pack and secured to a lower branch of one of the nearby trees. The Franciscan fathers were more than usually carefully in their preparations, for this was no mere overnight camp site. This was to be the site of a new mission named in honor of Saint Anthony of Padua.

As they waited for the approach of the vesper hour, the new arrivals seemed to fall beneath the spell of their surroundings. For a while no one spoke. Then, suddenly, the oldest padre leaped to his feet and ran forward to the bell. With all his energy, he rung the heavy clapper to and fro. The woodland silence shattered into a thousand clashing echoes, but the old man rang on even louder. In a strong, clear voice that matched the fervor of the bell, he called to the empty wilderness about him: "Oh, ye gentiles! Come, come to the holy Church! Come to receive the faith of Jesus Christ."

His two companions seemed abashed at the old one's uncontrolled emotion but they said nothing. The aged Franciscan was their leader, Father Junípero Serra, Presidente of the Franciscan missionaries, who first set the Christian faith upon the shores of California. Finally, the youngest, Father Miguel Pieras, grew alarmed for the well-being of his superior and said, "Why, Father, do you tire yourself? There is not a single gentile in the whole vicinity. It is useless to ring the bell."

Fr. Serra turned to him and said, "Father, let me give vent to my heart which desires that this bell might be heard around the world." Later, Fr. Serra was happy to learn that his impassioned supplication had reached the ears of at least one Indian "gentile" on that July day, although his message did not go around the world just then. In 1771, even Fr. Serra would hardly have expected such a miracle. Thus it was, however, that Mission San Antonio de Padua was officially dedicated on July 14, 1771.

A lone Indian witnessed Serra's actions, prompting the observation, "We see what has not been observed in any other mission. At the first Holy Mass a pagan is present." Later that day, the Indian returned with many from his tribe.

Mission San Antonio de Padua was the third mission founded in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. The original founding site lay one and one half miles south of the present church. The original location had to be abandoned in 1773 due to drought, and the new site was chosen on the east bank of year-round Mission Creek. Upon Father Palou's visit to the new site in the same year, he reported that a new church of adobe with a mortar roof, along with a dwelling for the father, and workrooms of the same material had been built to replace the abandoned buildings. The Salinan Indian neophytes had constructed houses of wood and mud for the soldiers and guard, and a large neophyte village of tules and poles as well. In the same report he noted that 158 Indians had been baptized, and that irrigation ditches had been cut from the creek to the cultivated wheat fields.

The name of the mission means, Saint Anthony of Padua of the Oaks. It is named for St. Anthony, who was laid to rest in Padua, Italy, when he died. Father Serra left two priests at the mission to begin the buildings, they were Father Miguel Pieras and Father Buenaventura Sitjar. In 1774, there were 178 Indians, 68 cattle and 7 horses at the mission. The building of the church did not actually begin until 1810. By 1805 there were 1,300 Indians living at the mission and in 1827, the mission had 7,362 cattle, 11,000 sheep, 500 mares and colts and 300 horses.

Mission Life

The story of the Indians at this mission begins on the day of Father Serra's first mass. A curious Indian boy watched the mass that dedicated Mission San Antonio de Padua. Afterwards Father Serra offered him gifts. He treated the Indian so kindly that he brought members of his tribe to meet Father Serra. These friendly Indians were always helpful and loyal through all the years that San Antonio was a working mission. In 1774, there were 178 Indians living at the mission. By 1805, the total was 1,300. In 1834 after the secularization laws went into effect, the total number of Indians at the mission was only 150.

When Serra returned to the mission in 1772, he found that its inhabitants had nearly starved. They had survived only with the help of the Salinan Indians, who helped them and shared with them.

The mission moved further north in the valley, in search of a better water supply. A small church and some homes were built, but construction on a larger church did not begin until 1810. Mission San Antonio became known for its wheat and its breeding stock of horses.

Fr. Buenaventura Sitjar is credited with much of this mission's success. He helped implement irrigation, and was an excellent engineer, building a dam on the San Antonio River (three miles from the mission), along with aqueducts and a gristmill. He served this mission for 37 years.

The first written record in 1774 shows San Antonio doing moderately well. The 1774 annual report noted 178 Indians living at the mission out of 194 baptisms, that an adobe granary had been constructed, and that a second irrigation ditch had been brought to the corn field. Building of necessary storerooms, workrooms and dwellings continued steadily as the mission family increased to 500 by 1776. There were also 68 cattle and 7 horses, a number of new buildings and a modest harvest of corn and wheat. A little later, in 1776, the mission was host to de Anza on the occasion of that intrepid voyager's second journey overland from Mexico to California. With him was the Franciscan Father Pedro Font whose minutely detailed diary gives a clear picture of the daily life within the religious settlement. It was obvious that Father Font had no strong love for the native neophytes of San Antonio whom he found to be "dirty, not pleasantly formed, and embarrassingly primitive in their mode of dress." Their language, which was carefully translated into a written form by Father Sitjar, seemed nothing more than a series of guttural ejaculations to the civilized Spanish listener.

The padres at San Antonio pushed building operations from the start. During the year 1776, the church was roofed with mortar and tiles and a street lined with adobe dwellings for the Indians was completed. Storerooms, barracks, warehouses and shops were erected, and irrigation ditches were dug to carry water to the fields from the San Antonio River.

In 1778, improvements expanded to include construction of an adobe building on the San Antonio River. Construction and repair kept pace with production and population increases at the mission, where continuous improvements took place in the additions of a grist mill, tannery, numerous storehouses and manufactories, garden walls, corrals, wells, and an extensive network of stone lined irrigation ditches added over the ensuing years.

A building 133 feet long for the church and sacristy was started in 1779 and finished the following year. Old records reveal steady progress in building through the years. A new church was completed in 1813 and long before that, a water power mill for grinding grain had been erected. The Indian community grew steadily. Wells were dug and a reservoir and aqueduct built. Heavy rains fell in the San Antonio district in 1825, causing the collapse of a number of structures, but these were replaced by larger and stronger buildings.

As Mission San Antonio grew wealthy and generally improved, so did the appearance of the neophytes. By 1782, the usually irascible Pedro Fages, back in California for another term as governor, was moved to comment on the industry of the mission and the good manners of its converts. A half century later, in 1830, the valley contained over 8,000 cattle and 12,000 sheep. Its harvests were large and wine and basket making were thriving industries, yet the number of Indians had been declining each year as the result of disease.

The padres of the mission reported to Governor Echeandia in 1827 that in addition to the construction at the mission complex, considerable improvements had been made at the various mission outposts as well. In 1820, a house of adobe and tile was constructed at the stockraising outpost at San Benito on the Salinas River, six leagues (the definition of a league varied, but averaged about 2.6 to 3.0 miles) east of the mission, followed by the construction of an adobe corral at that place in 1822. San Benito was used primarily for maintaining the sheep and lambs, as were corrals at San Bartolome del Pleyto. These sites were seven and ten leagues from the mission on the San Miguel Road. In 1823, a large adobe house with tile roof and covered corridor was constructed at Los Ojitos for the use of the neophyte cattlemen, who had used the corrals there since 1810. A second house was built at Rancho San Miguelito for neophyte herders in that region, who had tended cattle there since 1804. Beans and corn were grown at San Miguelito as well. Horses for the guard were kept to the north of the mission at the foot of the Santa Lucias, and mares with their young were kept at the seashore 10 1/2 leagues to the south. Five leagues east of the mission on the opposite side of the Salinas River was a tame horse pasture, used for recuperation of work horses. The necessity for irrigation was explained by the lack of a dependable rain cycle, and the padres qualified the apparent accomplishments of the building program by noting that lack of rainfall had made the mission dependent on outside sources for foodstuffs for several of its years.

Planning and improvements continued at Mission San Antonio after 1822 in spite of the lack of support by the newly established Mexican governorship. Construction took place during this period at all of the outlying ranchos, as well as the mission complex proper.

The economy at Mission San Antonio de Padua was similar to the other missions in that they planted crops of wheat and corn. They also planted vineyards, and raised cattle and sheep. The agriculture was needed not only to maintain the mission community and the nearby Indians, but was used for trade and served to visitors to the mission. Some of the shops at the mission were a weavery, a room for carding and spinning wool, a tannery for treating leather, a carpenter shop, a stable, and a harness shop.


After Mexico won its independence from Spain, it found that it could no longer afford to keep the missions running as Spain had done. In 1834, Mexico decided to end the mission system and sell all of the lands. They offered the lands to the Indians who did not want the lands or could not come up with the purchase price. The lands were divided into smaller Ranchos and sold to Mexican citizens who were helpful during the war for independence. In 1845, Governor Pio Pico declared Mission buildings for sale and no one even bids for San Antonio. After nearly 30 years, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church. Although some of the missions had already been returned to the church, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act declaring that all of the 21 missions in the California mission chain would become the property of the Catholic Church and have remained so since that time.

When inventoried in 1835 by government appointed administrators Manuel Crespo and Jose M. Rimirez, Mission San Antonio included various shops, dwellings, church rooms, library, mills, vats, ditches, and other constructions at the mission complex. Outlying holdings included vineyards, orchards, buildings, corrals, and fields at ten associated ranchos: San Carpoforo, San Bartolome (El Pleito), El Tule (Sitio), San Lucas (Sitio), San Benito, San Bernabe, San Miguelito, Los Ojitos, San Timoteo, and San Lorenzo (Sitio).

Decline and Rebirth

After 1834, the mission rapidly disintegrated under the impact of secularization. President Abraham Lincoln signed a patent in 1862 which finally restored the extensive structure to the Church but after 1882, when the last resident priest died, the building was left to the mercy of the elements. Nor did the elements fail to receive a helping hand for as recently as 1949 it was discovered that a rancho style railroad station many miles away had been completely roofed with tiles from the mission. The tiles had been sold to the railroad by an enterprising antique dealer and purchased in good faith.

The first attempt at rebuilding the fading mission came in 1903, when the California Landmark League, under the leadership of Joseph R. Knowland of Oakland, rebuilt the church walls. Considerable progress was made until the great earthquake of 1906 damaged most of it beyond repair. Soon, only the front section of the church and a few arches remained. It took nearly 50 years to completely restore the mission. In 1928, Franciscan Friars returned to San Miguel and also held services at San Antonio de Padua. In the 1940's, The Hearst Foundation gave the church $50,000 for repairs.

The Mission is surrounded by the Fort Hunter Liggett Military Reservation which was acquired by the Army from Hearst during World Was II to train troops. Additional land was acquired from the Army in 1950 to bring the total mission acreage to over 85 acres. This fort is still actively training troops today.


Present reconstruction did not get under way until 1948 when the mission received a grant of $50,000 from the half-million dollar fund established by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation for mission restoration . As a consequence, Mission San Antonio today is largely a reconstruction rather than a preserved ruin. The little hills of earth that once had formed the adobe brick of the original walls were carefully reformed in the same simple fashion practiced by the padres and their neophytes 150 years before. Every piece of timber in the new structure was carefully cut and surfaced with the same type of tools the first woodcutters had used. Modern conveniences remain perfectly concealed and, from the exterior, it could be the same humble structure the followers of Fr. Serra knew so well. The darkness and cold are gone, dispelled by electric light and radiant heating.

The importance of the restoration of San Antonio de Padua extends beyond the mere physical re-establishment of the buildings. It is the only mission whose surroundings remain as they were originally. The oak-mantled valley is still unspoiled and there is little visible habitation; nothing but the parked cars of the visitors suggests the modern world.

June 4, 1950, has become an important date in California mission history. California Mission Trails Association, because of the nature of the organization and its place in the life of the California missions, was called upon to organize and present a fitting program celebrating the completion of what will become an important living landmark. High officials from all over California joined with thousands of visitors in honoring the first mission to Saint Anthony of Padua on the Pacific Coast.

The very remoteness of what was redone at San Antonio by the Franciscans presents problems for visitors of today. Leaving the little town of Jolon, one must drive several miles through the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation, and past the imposing headquarters building formally a Hearst hacienda which has been mistaken time and time again for the mission. The actual old mission is still out of sight and a mile beyond.

Today, Mission San Antonio de Padua is one of only two original California missions that still exists in its natural rural environment. Located in an oak-covered valley, San Antonio's elaborate water system is still largely preserved. The archaeological materials are mainly undisturbed. It does not require much imagination to return to the mission's heyday of 1790.

A field school is offered as a six-week archaeology class by California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Students earn 6 quarter credits. The class is open to all adults with an interest in the historic archaeology of Spanish California.

As guests of the Franciscan friars, students are housed in single rooms in the monastery. Each room is fully furnished with electricity, wash basin, and desk. Meals are served communally in the mission refectory. Bathrooms and showers are available in both the men's and women's wings. Housekeeping chores are shared and a cook is hired to prepare meals.

The field school hopes to gather information that will help us to understand the process of native acculturation in the California missions. We will also be recording architectural information that will enable the mission to eventually restore the dormitory wing.

Students learn methods of excavation, recording, and laboratory analysis during the six weeks. Evening lectures on topics related to the class in the fields of archaeology, history, and lifeways of the times are also provided. This allows students to become totally immersed in the background.




Mission San Antonio de Padua
by Gary S. Breschini, Ph.D.