Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo (Monterey, California)

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Royal Presidio Chapel
Monterey, California - Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo (Royal Presidio Chapel) - panoramio.jpg
The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo.
Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo (Monterey, California) is located in Monterey Peninsula
Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo (Monterey, California)
Location in the Monterey Peninsula
Location550 Church St.
Monterey, California
Coordinates36°35′43″N 121°53′21″W / 36.59528°N 121.88917°W / 36.59528; -121.88917Coordinates: 36°35′43″N 121°53′21″W / 36.59528°N 121.88917°W / 36.59528; -121.88917
Area0.5 acres (0.20 ha)
Architectural styleSpanish Colonial
NRHP reference #66000216[1]
CHISL #105
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHLOctober 9, 1960[3]
Designated CHISL1933[2]

The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo (Spanish: Catedral de San Carlos Borromeo), also known as the Royal Presidio Chapel, is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in Monterey, California, United States. The cathedral is the oldest continuously operating parish and the oldest stone building in California. It was built in 1794 making it the oldest (and smallest) serving cathedral along with St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Louisiana. It is the only existing presidio chapel in California and the only existing building in the original Monterey Presidio.[3]

Early history[edit]

The church was founded by the Franciscan Saint Junípero Serra as the chapel of Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo on June 3, 1770. Father Serra first established the original mission in Monterey at this location on June 3, 1770, near the native village of Tamo. However, Father Serra became engaged in a heated power struggle with Military Governor Pedro Fages, who was headquartered at the Presidio of Monterey and served as governor of Alta California between 1770 and 1774.[4] Serra decided to move the mission away from the Presidio, and in May, 1771, the Spanish viceroy approved Serra's petition to relocate the mission to its current location near the mouth of the Carmel River and the present-day town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.[5]

When the mission was moved, the existing wood and adobe building became the San Jose Chapel for the Presidio of Monterey. Monterey became the capital of the Province of Californias in 1777 and the chapel was renamed the Royal Presidio Chapel. The original church along with other buildings in the presido was destroyed by fire caused by a salute gun in 1789 and was replaced by the present sandstone structure built between 1791 and 1795.[6] It was completed in 1794 by Indian labor.[7] In 1840, the chapel was rededicated to the patronage of Saint Charles Borromeo.[citation needed]

In 1849, the chapel was selected to be the Pro-Cathedral of the Diocese of Monterey by Bishop Joseph Alemany. After Alemany became Archbishop of San Francisco, his successor Thaddeus Amat y Brusi moved the cathedral to Mission Santa Barbara, to be closer to the population in Los Angeles.

Hoover marriage[edit]

The cathedral sanctuary as seen on Holy Saturday in 2013.

Future President of the United States Herbert Hoover and Lou Henry were married February 10, 1899 by Father Ramon Mestres who was serving at the Chapel; Hoover was the first President to be married by a Catholic priest.[8] The wedding took place not at the Chapel, but in the Henry home. Father Mestres had received special dispensation from the bishop to perform the civil ceremony because there was no Protestant minister in town at the time.


Statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe atop the cathedral façade.

The Royal Presidio Chapel is the first stone building in California and reflects the exquisite Spanish Colonial style of the late 18th century. The Moorish architecture influence is also evident in the fine architecture. The ornamental arches and portals carved in sandstone make the church unique and arguably the most beautiful of all the Missions. A garden surrounds the gated Mission, with a path leading all the way round and to both San Carlos School and the Rectory of San Carlos Cathedral. To the right of the Cathedral lies a statue of the Virgin Mary with an arch beneath. At the rear of the building is the Junipero Oak, a California landmark. There is a bell tower to announce Mass and in the niche at the very top of the façade there is a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the oldest non-indigenous sculpture in the state.

Associated landmarks and buildings[edit]

  • The Vizcaíno-Serra Oak. The preserved remains of the tree which is closely associated with the early history of Monterey once stood in the grounds of the cathedral.[9]
  • San Carlos School. The school is located on the grounds of the cathedral and was established in 1898 by the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondolet. It was later run the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. Since 2001, it has been run as a ministry of San Carlos Cathedral with a lay principal and faculty.[10]

Historic designation[edit]

In 1960, the chapel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places #NPS-66000216 as a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service. The chapel again became the cathedral of the Diocese of Monterey when the Diocese of Monterey-Fresno was split in 1967 to form the Monterey and Fresno dioceses. The cathedral is the smallest in the contiguous United States, and one of the two oldest buildings serving as a cathedral in the United States (St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Louisiana was also completed in 1794).

Other historic designations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  2. ^ "Royal Presidio Chapel of San Carlos Borromeo". Office of Historic Preservation, California State Parks. Retrieved 2012-10-10.
  3. ^ a b National Historic Landmark Summary by the National Park Service Archived October 8, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Paddison, Joshua (ed.) (1999). A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA. p. 23. ISBN 1-890771-13-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link) Fages regarded the Spanish installations in California as military institutions first and religious outposts second.
  5. ^ Smith, Frances Rand (1921). The Architectural History of Mission San Carlos Borromeo, California. Berkeley, California: California Historical Survey Commission. p. 18. The mission was established in the new location on August 1, 1771; the first mass was celebrated on August 24, and Serra officially took up residence in the newly constructed buildings on December 24.
  6. ^ Breschini, Ph.D., Gary S. "Monterey's First Years: The Royal Presidio of San Carlos de Monterey". Monterey County Historical Society. Retrieved 22 June 2013.
  7. ^ Dillon, James (April 24, 1976). "Royal Presidio Chapel" (pdf). National Register of Historic Places - Inventory Nomination Form. National Park Service. Retrieved 20 May 2012.
  8. ^ Humes, James C. (2003). Which President Killed a Man?: Tantalizing Trivia and Fun Facts about Our Chief Executives and First Ladies, p. 172. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0071402233
  9. ^ City of Monterey (2017)."The Vizcaino-Serra Oak: The Tree Where Monterey Began". Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  10. ^ History of San Carlos School. Retrieved 22 September 2017.


External links[edit]