2023 marks the 200th anniversary of the founding of Mission San Francisco Solano. Nestled in the Valley of the Moon, in the heart of California’s wine country, the mission is an unmistakable landmark.
The simple 2,400-square-foot church stands along Sonoma’s main square, across the street from the barracks that General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo built to house the troops that protected Mexico’s northern frontier.
The mission represents a rich history that includes native peoples, the area’s Spanish and Mexican heritage, the U.S. conquest of California and statehood.
Below are ten interesting facts about Mission San Francisco Solano.
- 1 The Final Link in the Chain
- 2 A Missionary Namesake
- 3 Founding Friction: The Controversial Plan for a New Mission
- 4 A Mission Without Permission
- 5 A Mission Under Mexican Rule
- 6 Revolutionary History: The Mission and the Bear Flag Revolt
- 7 The Merchant’s Mission
- 8 Surviving Disaster: The 1906 Earthquake
- 9 An Early Historical Landmark
- 10 Part of the Parks
The Final Link in the Chain
Mission San Francisco Solano is the last and northernmost of the 21 missions established in Alta California. It was founded on July 4, 1823, by Father José Altimira, a Franciscan friar from Barcelona, Spain.
A Missionary Namesake
The mission was named after St. Francis Solano, a 17th-century Franciscan missionary. Born in Spain in 1549, Francis came to South America and lived among the native peoples of Perú and Paraguay for over 20 years. He died in Lima, Perú, in 1610.
Founding Friction: The Controversial Plan for a New Mission
Fr. José Altimira created a plan with the territorial authorities for a new mission. Their idea was to merge Mission San Rafael Arcángel and Mission San Francisco de Asís (Mission Dolores) and to move their populations to a new site on the other side of the San Francisco Bay.
A Mission Without Permission
Although a Franciscan friar founded the mission, he did it without the permission of the order’s superiors. After the Father President of the California missions declared the move illegal, the territorial government and the Father President reached an agreement. They allowed the mission to stay open, but not at the cost of closing Missions San Francisco de Asís and San Rafael Arcangel, as was initially planned.
A Mission Under Mexican Rule
Mission San Francisco Solano was the only California mission established after Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. After the mission’s founding in 1823, no new missions were built in Alta California.
Revolutionary History: The Mission and the Bear Flag Revolt
The mission church faces the plaza that became the center of the Bear Flag Revolt of 1846. There, a group of American settlers took Gen. Mariano G. Vallejo prisoner and California and declared California an independent republic.
The Merchant’s Mission
In 1862, by decree of President Abraham Lincoln, the mission church and the surrounding buildings were returned to the Catholic Church. In 1881, Archbishop Joseph Alemany decided to build a new church to house the growing parish in the Sonoma area. He chose a site nearby and sold the old mission church, the padre’s house and the land behind it to a local merchant, Solomon Schocken.
Surviving Disaster: The 1906 Earthquake
Tremors from the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 heavily damaged the original adobe chapel of the mission. In 1909 its façade fell apart. Over the years, civic groups tried to stabilize and restore the building. The restoration was finalized in 1913.
An Early Historical Landmark
In 1926, Mission San Francisco Solano was declared California Historical Landmark No. 3., along with the Monterey Custom House (No. 1) and Gaspar de Portolá’s Journey’s End Site at Palo Alto (No. 2).
Part of the Parks
In 1927 the California State Parks Commission assumed responsibility for maintaining the mission and the surrounding property. Today it is one of only two of California’s Spanish missions operated as a State Park.
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