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Architectural Influences

Mission San Gabriel Archangel near Pasadena was the fourth mission built in California by Spanish missionaries. It was founded in 1771 on the Santa Ana River. A few years later, the mission was moved to a plain near the mountains. During the mission period, Mission San Gabriel became one of the busiest and wealthiest missions in California. The new location had fertile land, and the mission grew rich from its crops and cattle. It also became a stopping point for travelers between Mexico and Alta California. The excellent wheat, bean, and corn crops fed people at the mission as well as visitors stopping along El Camino Real.

An Interesting Design

California's 21 Spanish missions were built at different times by different people. Even so, most of them have a lot in common. Many of the missions have arches, domes, and other features from Spanish buildings and churches. But Mission San Gabriel is different. Built between 1791 and 1805, the church at San Gabriel looks more like a fort than a church.

Spanish Roots

No one is sure why the mission was built to look this way, but some people have an idea. The Roman Catholic priest who designed the San Gabriel church was Father Antonio Cruzado. He was born and raised in Córdoba, Spain, home of one of the most unusual Roman Catholic cathedrals in the world.

Córdoba's famous cathedral was originally an Islamic mosque, a house of worship for Muslims. The structure was built to look like a fortress about 1,300 years ago, when Muslims controlled much of Spain. By 1236, Roman Catholic kings had forced the Muslims out of Spain. The new rulers built a cathedral, a Roman Catholic house of worship, within the mosque. Today, hundreds of thousands of tourists go to Córdoba to see this building each year.

Experts believe that the designer of the San Gabriel mission used the Córdoba mosque as a model. The tall walls of San Gabriel's church are held up with buttresses, or support arms. Like the cathedral in Córdoba, the church in San Gabriel has tall and narrow windows, and arched shell decorations above the doors.

Today, San Gabriel is one of the best-preserved missions in California. This may be because Mission San Gabriel was built from stone, as well as brick and mortar. Most other missions were made from adobe. Even these strong materials were damaged by earthquakes in 1987 and 1994, however. People are working to repair and protect Mission San Gabriel so that visitors will be able to learn from it in years to come.