California/ Carmel-by-the-Sea: San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission

Being the last and northernmost colony on the continent, California (known as Alta California at the time) represented the high water mark of Spanish expansion in North America.

The mission system arose in part from the need to control Spain’s ever-expanding holdings in the New World. Realizing that the colonies would require a literate population base Spain could not supply, the government (with the cooperation of the Church) established a network of missions with the goal of converting the Native Americans to Christianity. Between 1769-1833, Father Junípero Serra (1713 – 1784) and his group of 15 Franciscans established 21 missions along El Camino Real (Spanish for “The Royal Highway”), much of which is now U.S. Route 101.

CA Missions

Today, the missions are among the state’s oldest structures and the most-visited historic monuments. Having visited five missions over the twelve years that I have lived here, it is my goal to visit all 21 eventually.

Having written about three of the five so far, I would like to introduce you to the fourth mission we visited recently, The San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission.


Previous posts about California missions:

(Mission San Juan Capistrano (;

Santa Barbara Mission (;

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa (

Located at 3080 Rio Road, Carmel, California, The San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission (Carmel Mission) was founded by Father Serra in 1770, making it the second of the 9 California missions he himself established.


Though San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission was originally founded in Monterey, it was decided that Carmel-by-the-Sea was a more appropriate location for its purpose. The mission was moved to its current location in 1771 and dedicated in 1797. Father Serra is buried within its grounds.

By the mid-19th century however, the mission buildings had fallen into disrepair.  A restoration project took place in 1884 and today, the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission is considered the most authentically restored Franciscan mission. It is the only one of the California Missions to have its original bell tower dome.









The Mission’s courtyard and gardens are peaceful places to meditate or rest. Self-guided and docent-led tours are available. Admission to the grounds and mission is $6.50 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2 for children, and children under 6 are admitted for free. All funds go to mission restoration projects.










Early graves


The Indians that worked and lived at the Mission are buried here

The Indians that worked and lived at the Mission are buried here



Carmel Mission also has four museum galleries that give insight into the history of both the Monterey Peninsula and all of the California Missions. The Harry Downie Museum shows the history of the Carmel Mission’s restoration. Mission San Carlos Borromeo’s Munras Family Heritage Museum gives the history of one prominent area family, showing how their history intertwines with the history of the Peninsula. The Jo Mora Chapel Gallery has ever-changing art exhibits, but its centerpiece is the Mora-sculpted Serra Memorial Cenotaph. The Convento Museum shows visitors what Mission San Carlos Borromeo was like during different eras through interpretive displays, and allows them to see the room where Father Junipero Serra lived and died.

Mora-sculpted Serra Memorial Cenotaph

Mora-sculpted Serra Memorial Cenotaph






Father Serra's vestments

Father Serra’s vestments

Father Serra's room

Father Serra’s room




Mission Carmel has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. It is an active parish church and also hosts concerts, art exhibits, lectures and numerous other community events. The mission grounds are home to the Junipero Serra School, a private Catholic school for kindergartners through 8th grade.

Of the five missions that I have had the opportunity to tour so far, I found the Mission Carmel was the most beautiful.  It draws artists from all walks of life, eager to sketch its historic buildings, fountains and grounds.  If you ever get the yearning to visit one of California’s 21 missions, try and make Mission Carmel the one.  You will not be disappointed.



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