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Carmel Mission Basilica

A Roman Catholic mission church dating back to the 18th century.

TravelCurious Tip

Before you go, its worth checking to make sure there is not a wedding going on — sometimes parts of the complex are closed for that reason

The Carmel Mission Basilica is a Roman Catholic mission church found in Carmel by the Sea. It was the HQ of the Alta California missions which were headed by Saint Junípero Serra from 1770 until he died in 1784. It was also the site of the first Christian confirmation in Alta California. However, other aspects of its history are dubious: the population of the mission swelled as native people were baptised and then relocated and conscripted into forced labour. By 1794 the population reached its peak of 927.


Under the Mexican government the buildings and lands were secularised with the stipulation that half the lands go to the native people. However, this never really happened. Without the forced labour, the missions could not be maintained and were soon abandoned. Nevertheless, in the second half of the 19th century the Roman Catholic Church regained control of the buildings and restored them. Pope John Paul II even visited in 1987.


As a result of the restoration efforts, the Carmel Mission Basilica is one of the most authentically restored missions in California. Today it is not only a place of worship but also hosts concerts, exhibitions and lectures. It is a museum too, with four specific galleries describing restoration efforts, the history of important families in the area, Jo Mora’s art works and the life of Saint Serra. But if you’re looking for some solitude and reflection, the pristine courtyard and flowering gardens are the place to be.

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