This Church Has Been Named Oldest Church in California


California has a rich tapestry of history and culture, with religious architecture standing out as an intriguing feature. From the Spanish missions strewn throughout the terrain to the modern cathedrals adorning the cities, the state boasts a broad range of churches that represent its vibrant people.

This article looks into California’s oldest church, discussing its history and significance.

The Royal Presidio Chapel: Its Timeless Legacy

The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, also known as the Royal Presidio Chapel, is located in Monterey and is California’s oldest church. This cathedral, built between 1791 and 1794 by Indian labor under the guidance of Franciscan missionaries, is the oldest continually operational parish as well as the oldest stone edifice in California.

The cathedral is an important element of the old Monterey Presidio, a military fort founded by the Spanish in 1770. The Presidio served as the capital of the Province of Californias, which included present-day California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and sections of Colorado and Wyoming. It also housed the Spanish governor and the Franciscan padre presidente.

The cathedral, once an unassuming adobe chapel constructed by Saint Junípero Serra, is dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of Serra’s home Mallorca. After Serra relocated the mission to Carmel, the chapel served as the presidio’s parish church.

It was destroyed by fire in 1789 and subsequently rebuilt with stones mined from neighboring hills and brought by oxen. The church is designed in the Spanish colonial style, with a rectangular nave, flat roof, and bell tower. Inside, visitors may see a wooden altar, a pulpit, and paintings of saints and angels.

The Cathedral’s Historic Footprint

Throughout its history, the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo has witnessed many historical events and noteworthy personalities. In 1844, Bishop Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno performed California’s first confirmation ceremony. It was erected in 1849 as the pro-cathedral of the Diocese of Monterey and served in that capacity until 1859 when the diocese migrated to Santa Barbara.

The cathedral had several notable guests, including Commodore John Drake Sloat, who hoisted the American flag above Monterey in 1846, and President Herbert Hoover, who married his wife Lou Henry in the cathedral’s sanctuary in 1899.

The cathedral, which is a National Historic Landmark, a California Historical Landmark, and a component of Monterey State Historic Park, represents California’s Spanish and Mexican past, as well as the Catholic faith. It continues to hold regular masses, marriages, baptisms, as well as cultural and educational activities. Visitors may also learn more about the cathedral’s history, art, and architecture in its museum.


The Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, California’s oldest church, serves as a focal point for the state’s rich ecclesiastical history. It is located in Monterey. This surviving tribute to Spanish colonial design and Franciscan influence is the oldest working parish, providing a historical journey from humble adobe beginnings to a stone masterpiece. With connections to historical events and famous personalities, the cathedral is a living relic that preserves California’s cultural and religious legacy for current and future generations.

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