Man on a Mission: Mission San Miguel Archangel

Man on a Mission

Man on a Mission

Editor’s note: Today, we continue our special series with Kirk Whitney – “Man on a Mission” will take all of us along on Kirk and Debbie Whitney’s pilgrimages to view and pray at the California Missions. I thank Kirk personally for this amazing opportunity to share these treasures with our readers! LMH

Out of the way, but easy to get to. That’s how I would describe Mission San Miguel Archangel. It’s right on California Highway 101 just a few miles north of the city of Paso Robles. The Mission is literally just off the off ramp on the outskirts of San Miguel. The Mission faces away from town, so visitors are looking out at acres of open farmland.

Mission San Miguel Entrance

Getting out of your car in front of the Mission is like stepping into the old west. The first thing that greets you is a worn adobe arch and a huge cactus garden lined with dirt and gravel walkways.

One of the first things you notice about this mission is its simplicity. The church itself is an unadorned rectangle. It is devoid of ornamentation. Its front and side windows are simple rectangles as well.

Mission San Miguel Altar

Unlike many other missions, the church is essentially as it was in 1820 when the original church was rebuilt. The exterior has been refurbished and maintained, it also had to undergo significant repairs after a 2003 earthquake, but the building is essentially in its original state.

The original mission church had been destroyed by fire in 1806. The residents of the mission spent a decade manufacturing adobe bricks and terra cotta tiles before attempting to rebuild. The “new” church’s simple design and six foot thick walls have withstood the test of time.

Mission San Miguel front

In this respect, the church’s interior is truly remarkable. The wall murals created by Spanish artist Esteban Munras are still present in their original, unrestored state today. The highlight of the mural work is a pair of seashells that run from floor to ceiling on each wall. The local Indian population referred to Mission San Miguel as “The Seashell Church”. Many neophytes wore seashells around their necks as a symbol of their baptism. In front of one of the shells is an eight-sided raised pulpit. The roof of the pulpit and The Holy Spirit in the form of a dove seem to float in mid air above it.

Mission San Miguel Interior

The altar is an impressive example of ornamental woodwork. Each of the eight columns at the altar were turned in one piece from individual Cambria Pines harvested in that coastal village over 40 miles away. A mystical “God’s eye” that hovers over the sanctuary crowns the altar.

The Mission’s museum is impressive as well. Since they have been conservative in their approach to restoration, the workshops, kitchen and padres quarters that have been preserved and recreated for visitors have an authentic feel. My favorite of the many artifacts they had on display was a 16th Century wood sculpture of Saint Michael Archangel.

Saint Michael Archangel

We enjoyed our tour of Mission San Miguel. It was our second visit in as many years. I was struck by how much more I got out of the visit in the context of touring the entire chain. I am even more appreciative of the opportunity after learning that the Mission had experienced structural damage in the 2003 San Simeon earthquake and had been closed to visitors until just a few years ago.

We are fortunate that we live in a time when all of the California Missions are intact and accessible. One hundred years ago, many of them were in ruins.

Mission San Miguel, like its counter parts is a testament to both the 18th century padres who founded the missions and to the 20th and 21st century Californians who have restored and preserved them.

View additional information on this and other California Missions at

Copyright 2013 Kirk Whitney


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1 Comment

  1. Danalee Lavelle on

    My family visited San Miguel in 1962, well before the San Simeon earthquake of 2003. I still have two pictures from this trip: the old bell tower and the oven by the cactus garden. In the latter I am standing at the oven with a long handled bread shovel (don’t know the proper term. I was seven years old. I think I’ve changed more than these mission locations. The renovations have made it possible to see the Mission in its glory instead of a pile of rubble. Thank you for your article.

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