By Todd Cook.
Did you know that only about two hours drive south of San Francisco, on a fairly quiet street in Monterey, there stands the oldest building in all of California? Not only that, it is also the oldest church building in the state that is still used as a church. It was built in 1794 and is today known as San Carlos Cathedral.
The church was originally surrounded by the walls of a fort called the Presidio of Monterey.
A long time ago, this church was called the Royal Presidio Chapel. “Presidio” is the Spanish word for “fort” or “fortress.” Today it stands in the open, but it was once surrounded by the walls of a fort called the Presidio of Monterey.
The Presidio of Monterey was built in 1771, long before the town of Monterey had been established. Still, it served as the capital of Spanish California. That means the governor of Spanish California lived and worked at the presidio, as well as priests, soldiers, craftsmen, women, children and servants.
The Royal Presidio Chapel, built for the governor, soldiers and settlers of the Monterey Presidio, was called “Royal” because the governor worshipped at that church—and the governor was the representative of the King of Spain.
This church is historic for a number of reasons:
- It is the oldest active church in California.
- It is the first building in California designed by an architect.
- It is the first stone building ever built in California.
- It is the first church in California to be designated a “cathedral” (meaning a very special house of worship).
Today, across the street from this historic church, there is a soccer field and a parking lot. The field and parking lot may not look very interesting, but once, the entire city of San Francisco camped here! In 1776 the Spanish settlers were on their way to San Francisco Bay when they decided to stop and rest at Monterey. They stayed there for four months, then traveled north to establish the settlement that would become the city of San Francisco.
Visit San Carlos Cathedral
500 Church Street
Monterey CA, 93940
See the website for visiting hours. Visitors may view the interior of the church (but be aware that there might be worshipers) as well as well as a museum next door.