History In Brief
Founded: 8 December 1787 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: The Immaculate Concepción of Mary the Most Pure
Number in Series: 11th
Indian Name: Algsacupí
8 December 1787: Dedication date for Mission La Purísima Concepción; located just about half way between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén started the baptismal register with “Mission of the Most Pure Conception of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Our Lady.” The first Indian baptized was named Francisco de la Concepción.
March 1788: After the rainy season soldiers and workmen arrived from Santa Barbara to start work on the mission buildings. Padre Lasuén arrived in April and by August, 75 converts had been added to the mission roster.
The mission flourished and the original poorly-constructed buildings were replaced with new buildings with adobe walls and tile roofs by 1802.
1804: Padre Mariano Payéras arrived at the mission and directed its activities for the next 19 years until his death in 1823 (he is buried in the Mission church). At this time the mission population stood at 1,522. By 1810 a livestock count topped 20,000. The mission was prosperous and growing.
21 December 1812: A four-minute earthquake hit the mission (and the entire coast). The walls of the buildings were badly damaged and largely collapsed during the heavy aftershock that occurred a half hour later. If that wasn’t enough, nature followed this up with torrents of rain. The resulting flood washed out the mission site with most everything lost.
A new site was then selected (the current location) some four miles northeast of the original location. The location was in the “Valley of the Watercress” (La Canada de las Borros). Work began on rebuilding the mission. Side note: The petition to move the Mission to its present location was sent 11 March 1813.
The new buildings were built with earthquakes in mind. The walls were four and a half feet thick and reinforced with stones. In a departure from the quadrangle design, normal for missions, the new buildings were built along a line and oriented to minimize shaking during quakes. A complex irrigation system brought water from the hills to the mission; a distance of three miles.
The new mission again prospered–for awhile.
1815: Padre Payéras became President-General of the missions making La Purísima the headquarters for the mission system. This lasted until 1819.
1816: A drought and subsequent lack of food killed much of the sheep herd.
1818: A fire raged through the worker’s homes and destroyed most of them.
1823: Padre Payéras passed away and, with him, much of the Mission’s focus was lost.
1824: Supplies to the missions and the Spanish military were largely cut off in 1821 when Mexico declared independence from Spain. This caused friction between the mission residents and soldiers who now had to depend on the mission for support. At Mission Santa Inés in 1824, this friction rose to the level of a revolt after a Santa Inés guard flogged a neophyte corporal from La Purísima. The Indians at Santa Inés revolted and, with the help of rebels from Santa Inés the rebellion spread to La Purísima. The Indians there took over the mission grounds and held them for about a month; until the news reached the Governor who sent troops from Monterey to quell the revolt.
In the end, 16 Indians died, many were wounded, one soldier died, and three were wounded. As a show of authority, the Governor condemned seven Indians to death and 18 to varying terms of imprisonment for their participation in the rebellion.
1834: Mexico’s Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. Coupled with the rebellion and resulting loss of faith in the missions, this was largely the death knell for the mission.
1836: The last resident missionary left the Mission. From then on the church was served from Santa Inés.
1845: By 1844 only 200 Indians remained at the mission and in 1845 all lands and buildings were sold for $1,100 to Don Juan Temple from Los Angeles.
1883: Most of the Mission lands were sold to Eduardo de la Cuesta by Bishop Francis Mora. He used the property as a ranch.
1903: Union Oil Company bought the ranch.
1905: The Tidings, a Catholic newspaper, reported that La Purísima was “the only monument in America that stands evidence that the belief in the Immaculate Conception was long held before it was defined as a dogma by Pius IX.” Side note: The tradition of honoring Mary as the Immaculate Conception dates back to at least the eighth century.
1933: Union Oil Company donated the property to the public. Little remained of the mission buildings except some wall fragments and pillars.
1935: The Civilian Conservation Corps adopted the mission restoration as a project. After intensive historical study, the original mission plans were recreated and starting in 1936 C.C.C. Company #1951 effectively rebuilt the mission from the ground up. (According to engineering reports a few original walls and foundations were used; and some of the original soap vats and cisterns could be cleaned out; but little else.) In the process they used processes originally used to build the structures. Bricks, floor, and root tiles were made by hand. Furniture, likewise was made by hand. And, the water system was rebuilt. The project is the most complete and authentic mission restoration in California.
7 December 1941: The Mission was rededicated.
25 August 1943: The Mission is honored on the twenty-fifth U.S. Maritime Commission ship. The oil tanker S.S. Mission Purísima was launched at Sausalito, California by Father Augustine Hobrecht. The vessel served until April or 1946. It resumed service October 1947 until May 1955. In 1956 it served again for a year until late 1957 when it joined the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet. It sits there today.
Today: Mission La Purísima Concepción is a State Historic Park consisting of 967 acres. Rangers and docents recreate mission life; including periodic “living history” weekends when docents dress up in period costumes and recreate the mission period by weaving wool, tanning hides, making candles, working the blacksmith shop, and answering visitor questions.
- California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
- Weber, Msgr. Francis J. Encyclopedia of California’s Catholic Heritage. St. Francis Historical Society and The Arthur H. Clark Company. 2000.
- La Purísima Concepción Info Page previously at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/lapurisima.html
- La Purísima Concepción Info Page previously at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/purisima.htm
Holding area for general notes to consider:
With the town and the community being mostly Catholic in composition, Father McNally, who was later transferred to Oakland, began building a church in 1875, the first Catholic edifice built after the Franciscan missions. In addition to the furniture and vestments being salvaged from the ruins of the old La Purisima Mission, the church had two distinctive towers which could be seen for miles. The church was christened “St. Isador,” the patron saint of agriculture as well as the patron saint of Portugal. [Contreras, Shirley (SM Valley Historical Society). “Guadalupe once envisioned to become metropolis.” The Good Years column: Santa Maria Times, 2 Feb 1997, p C-3]
It had only been about 30 years before that the Rev. McNally had been responsible for the building of the Mission of San Isadore, now known as “Our Lady of Guadalupe” church, in Guadalupe and the San Ramon Chapel–through the generosity of the Wickenden family who had donated the land and helped to build the little church–in Sisquoc. The Catholic people in Santa Maria wanted and needed a church of their own, complete with a resident priest. [Contreras, Shirley (SM Valley Historical Society). “Roman Catholics: A legacy of the Santa Maria Valley.” The Good Years column: Santa Maria Times, 11 Feb 96, p C-6]