The Santa Margarita De Cortone Asistencia



California Mission Asistencias and Estancias

  • Many of the California Missions had extensions, or sub-missions (asistencias), or ranchos (estancias), created to extend the reach of the missions and serve a larger community.
  • An asistencia was a “mission on a small scale with all the requisites for a mission, and with Divine Service held regularly on days of obligations, except that it lacked a resident priest” (Applied)
  • At one time, there were plans to form an inland chain of missions, possibly starting with the asistencias, to parallel the 21 coastal missions. The plans never materialized, and little remains of the asistencias. In fact, very few records of the asistencias survive.

Santa Margarita de Cortona was founded: circa 1787

  • Santa Margarita de Cortona, was a sub-mission of Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa.
  • “The asistencia was named after Santa Margarita de Cortona, an Italian saint, born 1247 in Laviano. Her story is one of a fallen woman finding her faith and redemption. She was allowed to join the Third Order of Saint Frances, receiving the seraphic habit in 1277. She died February 22, 1297 in Cortona, a province of Tuscany. Her body today is preserved in the Franciscan church at Cortona bearing her name. Benedict the 13th canonized her on May 16, 1728.”
  • The first mention of the Santa Margarita site was in the Anza expedition of 1775-1776. Juan Bautista de Anza and one of the Franciscans padres, Father Pedro Font, kept diaries of the journey. Font noted: 

“Then we descended among some hills and very green meadows with their arroyos, which form the SAnta Margarita Ricer, where we arriced afer going five leagues, there being a small village at this place.” 

  • About a decade later, the agricultural asistancia was established. The purpose was to raise wheat and as a place of refuge, in the event of attack of the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa mission. 
  • The Asistencia served as a meeting and lodging place for the Padres making the trek between the Missions San Luis Obispo and San Miguel Missions. 
  • Numerous buildings, storage facilities and a chapel overlooked Santa Margarita Creek.
  • Construction of the mission walls was of huge boulders and clay tiles.  Some of the foundations and walls of the original structures can be seen since they have been incorporated into a barn and ranch house that are still in use today.
  • The asistencia was a huge building, measuring 135 feet long and 32 feet wide at varying points. Interior stone walls divided the building. Inside, the chapel was 40 feet long and 30 feet wide. Eight other rooms were used for residences and storage.
  • During the 1820s, the control of the Asistencia shifted from the San Luis Obispo Mission to the San Miguel mission to the north. As a result, the Chumash neophytes (i.e., forced laborers) were replaced by Salinan neophytes from the San Miguel area. 
  • The Mission Period at the Asistencia de Santa Margarita de Cortona ended September 27th, 1841 when Governor Pro Tem Manuel Jimeno (Cassarin) granted the Rancho Santa Margarita to Joaquin Estrada who patented it
    April 9, 1861.
  • Over time, the Asistencia has been rocked by earthquakes (most recently in December 2003). Friar Gil y Taboada said in 1830, “all the walls of the house at Santa Margarita have been cracked by earthquakes.” This area  of the Santa Lucia Mountyains is fire-prone during droughts and, at one time, fires melted some of the natural silica in the rock, which is still visible today.
  • Today the Asistencia is a California Historical Landmark (#364) but is on private property.


Books and References

Applied Earth Works, Inc. Cultural Landscape Report for Santa Margarita Ranch, San Luis Obispo County, California. Prepared for Rincon Consultants, Inc., San Luis Obispo, California. September, 2008.

Cameron, William R. Rancho Santa Margarita of San Luis Obispo,
California Historical Society Quarterly. March 1957.

Louisiana Clayton Dart, Vignettes of History in San Luis Obispo County, Published by Louisiana Clayton Dart, 1978

Msgr. Francis J. Weber, Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia, Saint Francis Historical Society, 2003

Myron, Angel. History of San Luis Obispo County, Valley Publishers, 1979

Rossi, Rob. Santa Margarita Ranch Past and Future, website, 2001

Willams, Virginia. Protected Valley: The Story of Santa Margarita. Santa Margarita Civic Associastio. 1966.