Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 1.
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 Mission San Juan
 San Gabriel Mission
Tour a California Mission.

California’s 21 missions are the stuff of fourth-grade papier mâché history projects, but these 18th-century Spanish outposts are often overlooked by longtime residents. Fortunately, the two missions closest to campus also are among the most interesting.

Mission San Juan Capistrano, the “Jewel of the Missions,” is known for the swallows that fly home 7,500 miles from Argentina, arriving around March 19 each year, but the mission also has a tragic past. Native American workers toiled nine years to build the first church, only to see it topple in an 1812 earthquake, killing 40. A few years later, the French pirate Hippolyte Bouchard dropped anchor nearby and sacked both mission and town.

The closest mission to campus is San Gabriel Arcangel, founded in 1771. Once the wealthiest of the missions, today it houses a priceless collection of relics, including a baptismal font sent as a gift from the king of Spain. But this mission’s greatest historical contribution came when 1781, when a group of families left the San Gabriel to start a settlement nine miles to the west. They called it El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, and that was the beginning of today’s city of Los Angeles.
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