Mission Santa Cruz

September 25, 1791

California’s twelfth mission sits atop Mission Hill in Santa Cruz proper. Originally, it was built near the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, but flooding forced the Franciscan priests to move it out of the flood plain to the top of the hill. There it has stood for more than 200 years, a survivor of earthquakes, a tidal wave, disease and neglect. It has been rebuilt twice, the current church a smaller replica of the initial structure.

The mission was built in typical style, a traditional quadrangle with a large garden and orchard nearby. There are only a few actual parts of the original structure still in existence — a dormitory that now functions as a museum, a small part of the adobe foundation near the graveyard behind the Chapel and the original hand-carved baptismal font once located in the sanctuary sits in the garden. The original bell tower collapsed during one of the earthquakes and the nine original bells were sent to Mission San Francisco de Asis.

At the time Santa Cruz Mission was established, the Ohlone and then the Yokuts were living close-by. The nearby river and springs on the mission property were a consistent source of water for the cattle, oxen and sheep and grain, corn and beans produced by the mission. This hard luck mission, however, suffered from a seemingly neverending barrage of difficulties and by the late 1800s was finished.

Now, part of the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park and a designated California Historical Landmark it is the oldest building in Santa Cruz County, serving as a reminder of the Spanish influence during the settlement of coastal California.

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