The sixteenth in the chain of missions, Mission San Miguel was founded on July 25, 1797 by Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuén, who was a successor of Father Junipero Serra. Almost two years earlier, the site was selected to close the gap between Mission San Antonio and Mission San Luis Obispo. The mission was to be named for the “Most Glorious Prince of the Celestial Militia, Archangel Saint Michael.” Father Buenaventura Sitjar, the first administrator at Mission San Miguel, was fluent in the Salinan language and baptized 15 youth the first day. By 1806, more than one thousand Indians were living and working at Mission San Miguel. The success of the mission was largely due to Father Juan Martin. A temporary church was built in 1797 but was lost to fire in 1806 and preparation for a new adobe church began soon after. Tiles and adobe blocks were made and stored for 10 years before the stone foundation of the church was laid in 1816. By 1818, the church was completed and in 1821, the interior was decorated by Esteban Munras, with the assistance of the Salinan congregation.
Following Mexico’s move to independence, mission life began to change. Mission San Miguel was secularized in 1834 and put under the control of a civilian administrator. With the exile of the Spanish Franciscans, the Salinan people left Mission San Miguel for their ancestral homelands throughout the Central California Coast.
By 1842, there were only 30 Indians left at the mission. The property was sold in 1846 to Petronillo Rios and William Reed. The Reed family occupied buildings at the mission until the entire family and household staff were murdered in 1848. The mission rooms were then converted to commercial stores, such as a hotel, saloon and retail shops.
President Buchanan returned the mission buildings and surrounding property to the Catholic Church in 1859. A priest was assigned to the mission in 1878 and the parish was established. In 1928, the mission was returned to the Franciscans, becoming a novitiate training school for those becoming Franciscan Friars. The mission suffered extensive earthquake damage in December 2003, but because of community members, corporations, foundations and governmental entities, several areas of the Mission complex have been restored and reopened, including the Church in September of 2009.
In 2006, the mission was designated a National Historic Landmark. That same year the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Mission one of “America’s Eleven Most Endangered Places.” More funds are still needed to completely preserve the mission and ensure that it remains a jewel of California’s past, a living center of historical and cultural education and a revered place of worship for generations to come.
Masses and religious ceremonies are held during the week and on weekends. The gift shop and museum are currently open Thursday – Monday from 10 am to 4 pm.