Father Junipero Serra was buried here in 1784, and you can see his grave where a statue replica of his body is flanked by two priests at opposite ends. It's an impressive sculpture. He is responsible for the creation of the string of California Missions.
The Mission grounds and the two basilicas it contains are beautiful. The grounds are lovingly cared for, and there are inscriptions in appointed places to inform you what was used for what, and tiled religious icons throughout the gardens.
There needs to be a foot note here however, that since visiting the mission in San Antonio, I've come away with the certainty that these enclaves were more like prisons than anything else. It seemed that conversion to Christianity was not a mere option, therefore, despite the beauty of the San Carlos Borromeo Mission, which became the center of religious control, I have certain reservations about this whole system.
"We observed with concern that the resemblance is so perfect that we saw both men and women in irons, others in the stocks. Lastly, the noise of the whip might have struck our ears, this punishment also being administered...although, with little severity"-
1786 observation by Comte Jean Francois de la Perouse of France.
The Church itself, the oldest of the buildings, is still in use today, and when we entered, we saw behind iron gates the baptismal bath (Chuck explained this to me); in the center a few feet from the main entrance, was another sort of free standing water basin where holy water is still held. The interior ceiling architecture is quite elaborate and ornate; in one of the apses, is a very beautiful nativity scene.
Along one of the long walls of the mission are the school rooms; on the other is the museum itself where things are preserved remarkably well including a pair of sandals. The kitchen area with its giant pots and garlic strands; a wheelbarrow, the library which is behind a sealed glass door; the sleeping quarters which are reminiscent of jail cells, bare as they are with narrow beds.
Outside, there are some large and small fountains, but in the center of the courtyard is a large fountain with the original mosaic tile intact. Wooden benches are found in shaded areas of the gardens where native cacti and flora abound.
There is an enforced $3 donation at the door, where you'll receive a written aid to your self-guided tour.