Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings
Ownership and Administration. Roman Catholic Church.
Significance. Monterey was not only the Spanish and Mexican capitals of California for most of the period between 1776 and 1848, but also the stronghold of European civilization on the Pacific coast of the present United States and the hub of social, military, economic, and political activities in California. The Royal Presidio Chapel of San Carlos de Borroméo de Monterey was closely associated with political activities in California; in addition to being used for religious services, which were attended by the Spanish Governors, it was the scene of many colorful ceremonies that were part of the affairs of state. The only remaining presidial chapel in California, it is also the sole extant structure from the Monterey Presidio of Spanish times and the only 18th-century Spanish architectural survival in the present city of Monterey.
Don Gaspar de Portolá, Governor of California, and Father Junípero Serra established the Presidio of Monterey and the San Carlos Mission on June 3, 1770. Within less than 2 weeks, the 60 Spaniards in the pioneer party had erected the rude huts that temporarily constituted the presidio and mission. They then built a stockade around them. The largest hut was utilized as the mission chapel until the next year, when Serra moved his mission to a new site at present-day Carmel, 3 miles south of Monterey; thereafter the hut and the building that replaced it came to be known as the Royal Chapel (La Capilla Real) of the Presidio of Monterey.
The chapel walls were composed of logs standing on end, the interstices being filled with twigs and plastered with mud. The roof was supported by a row of wooden beams, covered with layers of sticks, branches, and leaves, and topped with earth. This rude structure was replaced in 1773 by an adobe chapel located on the south side of the presidio plaza, which was used until 1787. In the meantime, Monterey had been designated as the capital of California, and the Governor rebuilt the presidio.
The new presidio consisted of a stone wall 537 yards in circumference, 12 feet high, and 4 feet thick, which enclosed 10 adobe houses and a barracks. In 1789, fire destroyed a new log chapel, along with about half the other buildings, necessitating another building program. This program was largely completed in 1791, except for the new stone Royal Presidio Chapel, the present structure, which was not finished until 1795.
When Capt. George Vancouver visited Monterey in 1792, he estimated the garrison at about 100 men and observed that all the soldiers and their families lived within the presidio walls. During the 1800's, the presidio and nearby battery deteriorated. In 1818, Hippolyte de Bouchard, the Argentine pirate, attacked Monterey with 2 ships and 285 men. The Spanish defense force, consisting of only 40 soldiers and 8 rusty, poorly placed cannon, abandoned the presidio and retreated inland after making an initial show of resistance. Before departing, Bouchard ransacked the presidio and burned the battery, the northern side of the presidio, and three houses on the southern side. The chapel was not destroyed, but only adobe walls remained of much of the rest of Monterey. Because repair work proceeded slowly and conditions deteriorated during Mexican rule, by 1841 only the Royal Presidio Chapel remained standing.
Present Appearance. The Presidio of Monterey, active during the period 1770-1841, was bounded by present Webster and Fremont Streets, between Camino El Estero and Abrego Street. No remains are extant except for the Royal Presidio Chapel, erected in 1794-95. The original chapel was about 120 feet long and 30 wide, rectangular in shape and of the basilica type. Between 1855 and 1858, it was enlarged by 30 feet, and transepts were added at the south end, which changed the building's floor plan to that of a cross. Gothic windows with stained glass were also added, and the original flat roof of the belltower was replaced by the present peaked roof. The facade and walls of the original chapel are intact. The front faces north and features a facade of carved sandstone that has ornate columns and a massive arched doorway. The interior is plain, the whitewashed walls being decorated only by a few pictures and images of saints. The altar and the pulpit are at the south end of the building.
After the Mexican Government secularized Carmel Mission in 1834, it was abandoned and many of its relics removed to the Royal Presidio Chapel, where some may still be seen. During this period, the chapel served as a parish church. The chapel reflects the handiwork of Mexican Indians who were imported to construct the building and whose renderings of religious motifs have survived as notable examples of primitive art. The Stations of the Cross are original, as are also the statues of St. John, the Sorrowful Mother, the Spanish Madonna, and the bas-relief of Our Lady of Guadalupe, carved in chalk rock above the entrance. An adjoining museum houses precious Catholic relics, including the iron safe used by Father Serra, a rudely carved reliquary of Indian manufacture, and Serra's chalice, cape, and dalmatics, together with his altar service of beaten silver. 
NHL Designation: 10/09/60
Last Updated: 22-Mar-2005