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Mission Santa Bárbara

In Brief

Founded: 4 December 1786 by Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén
Named for: Saint Barbara
Number in Series: 10th
Indian Name: Taynayan
Brand: Santa Barbara Brand


The Past: Chumash Indians generally settled the area from where Malibu is today to the northern edge of today's Santa Barbara county (the Santa Maria River). In addition to hunting, they mastered the sea with plank boats (tomols) that sailed out to the Channel Islands (off the current Santa Barbara coast). Villages stood alone and leadership was handed down along hereditary lines. They were noted for their skilled handiwork. Fast forward to...

21 April 1782: The Spanish, as part of their colonization of California, established a chain of four military forts along the coast. The Santa Bárbara Royal Presidio, founded on this date, was the last in this chain (others were at San Diego, Monterey, and San Francisco). The first commander of the Presidio was Lt. José Francisco de Ortega. He stayed for two years.

Blessed Junipero Serra was present at the establishment of the Presidio and blessed the site. Thinking a mission would follow he also started a record book for the site; but, while he wanted to establish a mission he found he could not at the time due to lack of permission and funding (politics -- the Governor, Filipe de Neve, felt the Franciscans gained power each time a new mission was established). He died before that dream would come to pass four years later. [Side note: In a sad irony, California's new Governor Pedro Fages told Blessed Serra he had permission to build the Santa Bárbara mission just one month before Blessed Serra's death.]

The Presidio site is now in downtown Santa Barbara (at the Santa Barbara and East Canon Perdido Street intersection) and the portion left standing and restored is a State Historic Park.

1784: Lt. Felipe de Goicoechea became the second commander of the Presidio. He served for 18 years and commanded much of the building of the fort.

4 December 1786: Blessed Serra's successor, Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuén, chose the site for the new mission. Known as Tanayan by the Indians and El Pedregoso by the Spaniards, it means Rocky Mound in English. On this date (the Feast of Saint Barbara) the site was unofficially dedicated. Governor Fages attended a formal dedication a few days later on the 16th of December. Padre Lasuén left Padre Antonio Paterna in charge of the mission. He started construction of the buildings and conversion of the Indians.

The first Mission buildings were standard construction for the period: logs and/or adobe with thatch roofs. After some time the quadrangle was completed with an adobe wing including a kitchen, storeroom, and dormitory. Next to the Mission, where the parking lot is now, rows of Indian houses were constructed. [Side note: The Map page has a map of the final Mission layout.]

1794: The largest of the initial three churches built on the site was completed this year. It had six side chapels but was destroyed in 1812.

1794-1795: Two drought years in a row forced the start of planning for an aqueduct system.

1803: An agricultural census shows 11,221 head of sheep controlled by the Mission.

1806: Over time water works including a dam and aqueduct system were constructed to service the Mission. Portions of this system survive today and the largest reservoir, constructed this year, continues to serve the city of Santa Barbara.

Picture taken
13 Jan 2002

1807: The dam in Pedragoso Creek, which stands today as part of the city's Botanical Gardens, started construction. It took seven years to complete. It is made of stone, seashell, and lime mortar with layers of cobbles from the stream. The dam today is original except for the bridge and some concrete work at the bottom. [To visit: Go North from the Mission on Los Olivos St. and keep to the left onto Mission Canyon Rd. to Foothill Rd. (0.6 mi. and a dead-end). Turn right on Foothill 0.2 mi. to Mission Canyon Rd. extension. Turn left being careful to stay on Mission Canyon Rd. as other roads intersect and it's easy to take a wrong turn. The Botanical Gardens are 0.7 mi. at GPS 34°2'40"N 117°13'15"W. There is an admission charge and some of the trails are steep.]

1808: The Mission's Moorish fountain was built in front of the Mission. Overflow from the fountain fed a lavadero where clothes were washed. You can still see this area in front of the Mission.

1809: An agricultural census shows 5,200 head of cattle controlled by the Mission.

21 December 1812: A large earthquake strikes the Santa Barbara area. The church was largely destroyed along with portions of the other Mission structures. The earthquake was so bad that in 1884 Anisetto Pajilacheet, a Chumash who was living on Santa Rosa Island (Indian name Mascui) at the time, reported that "the waters receded from the island several hundred yards." This caused the Indians living on the island to leave. Many resettled at the various missions. The church was patched up and used until a new church could be started.

1815: Church reconstruction in its present form using sandstone started (the cornerstone was laid). After five years, in September 1820 amid ceremonies featuring Governor Sola and other dignitaries, the reconstructed church was dedicated. While damaged in a 1925 earthquake and later repaired, this church is largely the same church we see today. Padre Ripoll oversaw the construction.

The façade of the new church was modeled after one found in the 1787 Spanish edition of a 27 B.C. book on architecture by Vitruvius, a Roman.

This church design called for a building 161 feet long, 42 feet high, and 27 feet wide. The design called for one tower but a second was added in 1833. Santa Bárbara thus became the only mission with two towers.

The attached monastery wing was built and changed significantly over time. It started in 1809 as a balustraded, one-story building. A sloped tile roof was added around 1812. A second story was added around 1856 but the tile removed. Around 1888 the tile was added back to the roof and the structure looked then as it looks today.

1818: Some 150 Indian neophytes were armed and trained to be part of the Presidio guard. This was in response to a threatened attack by French pirate Hyppolite de Bouchard. (Bouchard had already attacked Monterey, captured the presidio, and set fire to the buildings.) Fortunately, he bypassed Santa Barbara; instead he found the deserted Ortega Ranch in Refugio Canyon. He plundered the ranch; but, Sergeant Carlos Antonio Carrillo and his men from Santa Barbara had, during the time, moved to cut off egress from the canyon and captured some of the men (Bouchard also captured some of Carrillo's men). Bouchard arranged a prisoner exchange and continued on his plundering way.

10 September 1820: A dedication ceremony was held for the Mission Church. This formal blessing was attended by the Governor, padres from surrounding missions, and others. In all, over 1,000 people attended the ceremony.

1833: Father-President Narciso Duran moved the headquarters for all missions from Mission San Jose to Mission Santa Bárbara. Because this mission is the only one where Franciscans remained in control through the "bad years" of secularization and follow-on mission destruction the historical documents from the mission years along with a collection of sheet music have been preserved here. [Side note: The Indians at Santa Bárbara learned to sing and play instrumental music. Without an organ, services were accompanied by violins, cellos, woodwinds and brasses along with an Indian choir.]

1834: Mexico's Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. This same year Mission Santa Bárbara was securlarized. As with other missions, civil authorities did not care for the mission property as well as the padres did.

Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno1839: Unlike the other missions, Mission Santa Bárbara had a Franciscan appointed administrator. Padre Duran, who was already at the Mission was given that job. [Side note: It probably also helped that the first Bishop of California, Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno, O.F.M. (picture at right) also resided at the Mission.]

1843: The Mission was given back to the Franciscans.

1846: Both the Bishop and Padre Duran died. Governor Pio Pico attempted to confiscate the lands and sell the Mission. He was, however, too late to effect much change as this same year the U.S. flag started to fly over Monterey.

1865: The Mission was formally returned to the Catholic Church by Abraham Lincoln. The Franciscans continue to run the Mission.

1868: The Franciscans started a high school and junior college for boys at the Mission site. This lasted until 1877.

1880's: The Chumash did not entirely leave the Mission. Some of their leaders (e.g., Chief Yanonali) converted. But, at the same time, Indian customs were integrated into their beliefs. The last Indian spiritual leader (Antap) to be associated with the missions, Rafael Solares (pictured in the museum) was a sacristan at Mission Santa Inés.

Christmas 1882: Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria and wife of the Canadian Governor General, visited the Mission. She has the honor of being the first woman to be allowed into the cloistered gardens.

24 April 1891: President Benjamin Harrison stopped to visit the Mission. Apparently there was little ceremony.

1896: A seminary for candidates to the priesthood was opened at the Mission (School of Theology for the Franciscan Province of St. Barbara). The seminary continued at the Mission location until 1968.

1901: A grand parade was held in honor of a visit to the Mission by President William McKinley.

9 May 1903: President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Mission. He complimented the padres "for preserving the memorials of an older civilization." Father Ludger Glauber was the host at the Mission.

29 June 1925: Yet another earthquake struck the area and damaged both the church and monastery wing. The three stone figures of Faith, Hope, and Charity were damaged in this quake. Rebuilding started immediately under the direction of Ross Montgomery, Architect of Los Angeles. Many of the walls can roofs were replaced with reinforced concrete; keeping the sandstone and adobe exteriors. 

1927: Restoration was complete at a cost of $400,000 donated from throughout the state.

1950: Cracks appeared in the façade; this time from a chemical reaction within the 1925 restoration materials. The entire façade had to be torn down and replace; this time with steel-reinforced concrete. The builders were careful to keep the original design of the stone facing.

1956: A major building program added two large quadrangles and the West wing changed. The second quadrangle, started in 1796, was restored to two stories. Other additions were made to serve as a chapel, auditorium, and lounge.

1983: Approximately a century after the first English royal visited the Mission, Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain toured the Mission.


  • 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.
  • Mission Info Page at http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/santabarbara.html
  • Mission Info Page at http://www.bgmm.com/missions/barbara.htm
  • Presidio Info Page at http://www.sbthp.org/presidio.htm
  • Mission Web site at http://www.sbmission.org/
  • Report of the Chumash on Santa Rosa Island in 1812 at http://www.crustal.ucsb.edu/ics/sb_eqs/1812/chumash.html
  • Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record Santa Barbara Mission Data Sheet at the Library of Congress

Navigation for Mission Santa Bárbara:

Mission Home :: History :: Map :: Front :: Museum :: Museum (cont) :: Garden :: Church :: Cemetery :: Aqueduct

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Copyright © 2002 Tom Simondi, All Rights Reserved
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