Mission San Jose

The church at Mission San Jose was reconstructed in the 1980s to look identical to the church built in 1809.


Mission San Jose was established in 1797. It was named after Saint Joe, the alleged stepfather of Jesus Christ, and not that other Saint Joe, who wants to free us from the evil grip of Donald Trump.

It’s the only mission east of San Francisco Bay. And in spite of its name, it’s actually located in Fremont, California, 20 miles north of the city of San Jose.

There are three rules for establishing a successful mission: Location, location, location. The water at this location was good, the ground fertile, and the soil produced excellent adobe bricks. And this combination of local resources made for a thriving, prosperous mission.

The church is long enough to allow one to run a vigorous 50-yard dash, straight for the exits. Such as when the collection plates appear.

Over the first 35 years of operation, this mission expanded its territory as far north as present-day Oakland, and as far south as present-day San Jose. And the padres turned the Native American Ohlone tribe from hunter-gatherers to highly successful farmers and ranchers, with bumper crops of wheat, grapes, and olives, and large herds of cattle, horses, and sheep.

Then it all came crashing down. The Mexican government secularized the mission and sold it off to business interests. The natives were forced to leave and go back to their former way of life. But by this time they’d gotten rusty at hunting and gathering, and many died of starvation and disease.

The altar is impressive enough to make any atheist reconsider their beliefs.

During the gold rush, the mission was converted to a place of lodging, and a commercial general store.

And then in 1868, it all came crashing down again. Because it was leveled by an earthquake.

The year after the quake, a gothic-style wooden structure was built over the old foundation, and served as a Catholic parish church for the next 96 years, until 1965. That’s when the Catholics sold the building to the Episcopalians. These good and righteous Episcopalians carted it off 40 miles away, to San Mateo, while observing all traffic laws, including signaling while turning.

In 1982, a great restoration project began, aimed at reconstructing a likeness to the original adobe church. And those involved in the reconstruction were purists. They used old timbers, and employed rawhide thongs to bind the timbers together, rather than nails, just the way the original church was built by the native Ohlone tribe.

No, this is not a spittoon. It’s an old-time water filter used by the early missionaries. The cistern is filled with water, which slowly seeps through its pervious stone and drips into collection urns placed below.

They also used handmade adobe bricks, and constructed the walls four to five feet thick, as in the original. However, they deviated from the original design in one important way. They made sure to incorporate an internal steel frame, to protect it from anymore earthquakes.

Today, Mission San Jose’s church looks much the way it appeared 200 years ago. Except that there is also a modern elementary school on the grounds. The mission remains an active Catholic parish, and those schoolkids wear uniforms and probably live in fear of a bunch of grumpy nuns.

Entryway from the cemetery to the church.

For an adult admission fee of $5.00, you can visit the mission any day, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and take a self-guided tour. Parking spots on the street can be scarce, but you’re allowed to use the school’s parking lot. From there it’s a walk of about a hundred yards to the mission entrance.

The old cemetery is between the church and the school, and contains bodies that have been dead for a very long time. Some well over a hundred years. It’s kind of creepy, and I’ll bet it inspires the schoolkids to invent ghost stories.

27 comments

Go ahead, blurt it out:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.