Mission Santa Clara de Asís

Mission Santa Clara de Asís (Italian: La Missione di Santa Chiara d'Assisi) was founded on January 12, 1777 and named for Clare of Assisi, the founder of the order of the Poor Clares. Although ruined and rebuilt six times, the settlement was never abandoned.


Santa Clara de Asis was the first mission to be built in honor of a woman. The outpost was originally established as La Misión Santa Clara de Thamien (or Mission Santa Clara de Thamien) at the Indian village of So-co-is-u-ka (meaning "Laurelwood", located on the Guadalupe River) January 12, 1777. There they erected a cross and shelter for worship to bring Christianity to the Ohlone and Costanoan peoples. Floods, fires, and earthquakes damaged many of the early structures and forced relocation to higher ground. The second site is known as Mission Santa Clara de Asís. A subsequent site of the Mission dating from 1784 to 1819 is located several hundred yards west of the De La Cruz overpass of the Caltrain track; moreover, several Native American burial sites have been discovered near this subsequent site. The current site, home to the first college in Alta California, dates back to 1828.

Initially, there was tension between the people of the Mission and those in the nearby Pueblo de San Jose over disputed ownership rights of land and water. The tension was relieved when a road, the Alameda, was built by two hundred Indians to link the communities together. On Sundays, people from San Jose would come to the Mission for services, until the building of St. Joseph's Church in 1803. In that year, the mission of Santa Clara reported an Indian population of 1,271. In the same tabular report, its resident priest estimated that 5,000 cattle, 7,000 sheep, 2,200 horses and 30 mules were on mission lands, while about 3,000 fanegas of grain (some 220 pounds each of wheat, barley or corn) had been harvested. In 1850, California became a state and priests of the Jesuit Order took over the Mission Santa Clara de Asís. Father John Nobili, S.J., was put in charge of the Mission. He began a college on the Mission site in 1851, which grew into Santa Clara University; it is the only mission to become part of a university, and it is also the oldest university in California. Throughout the history of the Mission, the bells have rung faithfully every evening, a promise made to King Charles III of Spain when he sent the original bells to the Mission in 1777. He asked that the bells be rung each evening at 8:30 in memory of those who had died.

Mission Santa Clara de Asís sits on the campus of the Santa Clara University. After a 1925 fire destroyed the 1828 mission structure, the church's parochial functions were transferred to St. Clare Parish Church, on Lexington Street west of the campus. A rebuilt and restored Mission Santa Clara was consecrated in 1929, when it assumed its primary modern function as chapel and centerpiece of the university campus. It is open to visitors every day; the Mission museum is located in the university's De Saisset Museum.

Other historic designations
  • California Historical Landmark #250 — Old sites of Mission Santa Clara de Thamien and the Old Spanish Bridge

Building Activity

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