Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, Monterey, CA | CruiseBe
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Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo

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The Cathedral of 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.


Early history

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. 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.

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. It was completed in 1794 by Indian labor. In 1840, the chapel was rededicated to the patronage of Saint Charles Borromeo.

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

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. 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.


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

The Vizcaíno-Serra Oak (The Junipero Oak)

Father Junipero Serra performed the ceremony of taking possession of Las Californias in the name of Crown of Spain under this native oak tree. Right Reverend Monsignor Ramón M. Mestres installed the Junipero Oak tree trunk at the rear of the Royal Presidio Chapel, where it remains today. The trunk is being preserved with crude oil and creosote and is held together by a wire frame. It is mounted on a concrete pedestal and is filled with concrete where it gets eaten away.

San Carlos School

Right Reverend Monsignor Rámon M. Mestres founded San Carlos School in 1898. The Catholic school is still running today and lies directly to the right of the Rectory of San Carlos Cathedral. Originally, it also served as a school and convent combined, but today the lay teachers live off campus.

Carmel Mission

The mission near the mouth of the Carmel River was named Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo.

Historic designation

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

  • California Historical Landmark #105 — Royal Presidio Chapel
  • California Historical Landmark #128 — Landing Place of Sebastian Vizcaíno and Fray Junípero Serra

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