Pretty in pinkSan Rafael, CA

Mission San Rafael Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

This is the twentieth installment of my Mission Mondays series, exploring all 21 Spanish Missions along the California coast. You can read more about this series, and see a sketch map of all the missions, at this post.

This is yet another replica mission—making it compare less favorably to places like San Francisco or San Juan Capistrano, and one of the least visited in the chain. In fact, when I later had dinner with a local and told him what I’d done that day, he said, “Yeah, but it’s been totally rebuilt, so it hardly counts.” Well, fair enough. Still, I’m a completist, so here we are.

Detail of California Missions map sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Mission San Rafael Arcángel completes the trio of missions named for the three arcangels (Gabriel, Michael and Raphael). Originally it was built as an asistencia or sub-mission (there are still several sub-missions still standing, but I didn’t visit any of them—it was hard enough to get to the 21 main missions!), but it was “upgraded” to full mission status in 1822.

Mission San Rafael Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

The pink tower of St. Raphael’s Church is the most eye-catching feature of the complex, but what’s more interesting to me is that the mission served as (what would become) Marin County’s first hospital. Taking advantage of the superior air quality to that of San Francisco, San Rafael was organized as a sanitarium for the local Indigenous tribes.

Mission San Rafael Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

Sadly, there’s really no trace of the original mission left today—which makes the old wall at Santa Cruz seem like precious treasure. The current buildings are twentieth-century replicas, and not even the layout of the original complex has been preserved. So I can see where my local acquaintance was coming from, I guess. Still, I can’t write the place off entirely—whatever form it takes, it’s a link to California’s past.

Mission San Rafael Arcángel sketch by Chandler O'Leary

As far as I’m concerned, it still counts.

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Comments (2)

  1. Beth Allen

    So enjoy your blog. Especially the California Missions series!!! I grew up in Novato, CA (right next to San Rafael) so, ive been waiting for this one!!! I am lucky enough to do a lot of traveling in my life and love seeing your art of places I too have been. I’ m a big fan!

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