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Navigation for San Buenaventura:

Mission San Buenaventura

In Brief

Founded: 31 March 1782 by Blessed Junípero Serra
Named for: Saint Bonaventure
Number in Series: 9th
Indian Name: Miscanaga
Brand: Ventura Brand


1769: Blessed Serra surveys various sites for missions in his trek up California. He selects a site to be dedicated to Saint Bonaventure with the thought of making it the third mission in the chain of missions. This decision has to be postponed just over a decade, however, due to a variety of reasons, including the lack of enough soldiers to form a guard. Instead of the third, it thus became the ninth, and the last founded by Blessed Serra.

Note: Blessed Serra would likely have founded more missions but politics got in the way. The Spanish King had decided that Spanish settlers were of greater value than converted Indians and directed that new missions be churches only, founded without Indian labor or the traditional mission industries. Blessed Serra thought differently and ignored these rules at Mission San Buenaventura. This resulted in a temporary halt to the mission system expansion.

March 1782: In grand style, a large group set out from San Gabriel to start this Mission. Eight soldiers, their families, and many muleteers and stock accompanied Blessed Serra and Padre Pedro Benito Cambon. Also along were Governor Neve with his own guard of ten Monterey soldiers.

31 March 1782: At la playa de la canal de Santa Barbara (the beach of the Santa Barbara Channel) a Cross was raised and Blessed Serra celebrated High Mass. It was Easter morning. Thus was started Mission San Buenaventura. Padre Cambon was left to manage the development of the Mission. It quickly became prosperous in large part because of Padre Cambon's work.

One of the engines that drove Mission prosperity was a seven-mile aqueduct Padre Cambon had constructed from the Ventura River to the Mission on the shore. This influx of water allowed a wide variety of crops to grow, including orchards, gardens, fruits, vegetables, grains, and even exotics such as bananas, coconuts, and figs. English navigator George Vancouver called the gardens the finest he had seen.

About 1784: The first Mission church was built. It burned down after about ten years of use; a fate of many of the early mission churches. A second church was abandoned because, according to Vancouver, "the door gave way."

1793: Now Captain Vancouver returned to the Mission to obtain stores. It's said that 20 pack mules were needed to carry the produce to his ship in Santa Barbara.

1794: Work began on the present church and utility buildings. These were designed to form the traditional mission quadrangle. Work was half finished in 1795 but slowed down significantly and the church was not finished and dedicated until 1809.

16 July 1806: Padre Vicente de Santa Maria died on this date and is currently buried behind the Mission.

9 September 1809: The stone church, the basis of the present-day church, was dedicated. The first services were held the next day. Also in this time period two chapels were completed:

  • San Miguel Chapel (Thompson Blvd and Palm Street) - Washed away in a flood in 1832?)
  • Santa Gertrudis Chapel (Highway 33 near Foster Park)

The main altar is the original altar. The main statue of Saint Bonaventure was sent from the Philippines in 1808 and is believed to be over 400 years old. The centerpiece painting over the Altar of Our Lady of Guadalupe is by Francisco Cabrere and dates from 1747.

The doors of the Mission (replicas today) are carved with the "River of Life" (wavy line) design. The archway has a Moorish (Moroccan influence) design that is supposed to have been interpreted by the Indians as representing the Mission itself: the center of the niche represents the Mission; the two sloping lines on each side represent the Ventura and Santa Clara Rivers that pass on either side of the Mission; the design at the top represents the local mountains.

21 December 1812: A magnitude 7 earthquake struck in the Santa Barbara Channel. At Mission San Buenaventura there was much damage by both the shaking and the resulting tidal wave. The bell tower collapsed. The residents were so frightened they left the Mission and moved into the hills for three months. On their return, it took a year to fix the earthquake damage.

1816: The Mission is reported to be at its peak with 1,328 Indians living on the property.

October 1818: With a shanghaied crew the pirate Bouchard set sail from Hawaii to California. He stopped in Monterey and then sailed south to Santa Barbara where 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.

November 1818: Padre Jose Señan, in charge of the Mission, was ordered to remove all valuable church goods and sacred objects and, literally, head for the hills to avoid a confrontation with Bouchard. They did so and returned 31 December 1818 after the danger from Bouchard had passed.

About 1819: The Mojave Indians came to the Mission to trade. The Spanish soldiers disapproved and detained them overnight. The next day this resulted in a fight and 12 deaths. The Mojaves never forgave this outrage and worked against the Mission from then on.

25 August 1823: Padre Jose Senan died on this date and is currently buried behind the Mission.

17 January 1831: Padre Francisco Suner died on this date and is currently buried behind the Mission.

1834: Mexico's Secularization Laws were ratified in 1834. This was largely the death knell for the missions.

1845: By order of Bishop Garcia Diego, the first Bishop of California, the church became a parish church. The Mission properties were rented to Don Jose Arnaz and Narciso Botello. The rental was scheduled for nine years but Governor Pio Pico illegally sold the Mission to Arnaz and kept the funds for his own use.

1856: Henry Miller (Account of a Tour of the California Missions) wrote that he found Ventura to be "a village of about 70 to 80 houses, inhabited principally by natives and Mexicans. The Church is in tolerable good preservation, in which officiates a French priest."

9 January 1857: Earthquake damages the tile roof; it's replaced with a shingle roof.

About 1859: Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany asked the U.S. Government to return Mission holdings (church, residence, cemetery, orchard, and vineyard) to the Catholic Church.

1860s: The earliest extant photograph of the Mission was taken in the early 1860s. It currently hangs in the Mission Museum.

Earliest PhotoExpand
Picture taken 3:55pm 30 Jan 2012

1861-1878: Father Juan Comopla was resident priest. He added a wood ceiling and had the tile floor covered with wood flooring (since removed).

23 May 1862: President Abraham Lincoln signed a Proclamation which returned all mission properties (San Buenaventura included) to the Catholic Church.

1878-1895: Father Caprion Robio was in charge of the Mission. He is known as the "modernizer" because he had the windows lengthened, stained glass added, early interior decorations removed and the walls repainted and stenciled. (These "improvements" were later reversed in a 1957 renovation.)

1887: This year and the next the original Sacristy and some other adjoining Mission buildings were removed. Also, Ventura started to grow significantly because of the arrival of the railroad.

About 1890?: A sea captain supposedly planted two Norfolk Island pines in the garden between the church and museum. It's said he hoped to grow more and use the resulting trees to build ship's masts. The trees are currently used for shade and are strung with lights by the city of Ventura at Christmas-time. (The mast story may very well be legend but it makes a nice story[smile].) You can clearly see them in this picture. They've grown some...

Pine TreesExpand
Picture taken 3:25pm 30 Jan 2012

31 July 1905: A local resident, Juan Camarillo, went on a pilgrimage to Rome for an audience with St. Pole Pius X. This pilgrimage was the first occasion that a Holy Pontiff consented to be photographed with a pilgrimage group. That photo is hanging in the Mission Museum and shown here.

Pilgrimage PictureExpand
Picture taken 2:00pm 14 Sep 2003

1906: A small earthquake weakened the church tower. This was then strengthened with structural steel angles and rods. Side Note: It's unknown if this was a small local quake or an extension of the great 1906 San Francisco quake.

1921: The school was added on the West side of the church.

1922: The living quarters, Parochial School, and living quarters of the Sisters were built.

1929: The present Sacristy and museum were added. A feature of the museum are the original wooden bells used at the Mission (the bells were made of wood with a metal band inside for the clapper to strike). These were the only wooden bells used in the mission system. Side Note: A single wooden bell is hanging at La Purisima to fill space originally used by a metal bell. Second Note: The current bell tower has five bells. The top one was cast in Paris, France in 1956. Two older bells, St. Peter and St. Mary of Sapopa, are lower in the belfry. There were cast in Mexico in 1815.

1956: Father Aubrey J. O'Reilly directed the restoration of the church. As noted above, it had been "modernized" and many changes needed to be made to bring it back to its original form.

1976: The entire church roof was removed and replaced. The church was solemnly consecrated by Timothy Cardinal Manning.


  • California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
  • Mission History which used to start at: http://people.we.mediaone.net/pender/kid/mission/mission1.html
  • Mission Web site which used to be at: http://www.digitalaire.com/Ventura/VCC/Mission.html.
  • Mission History which used to be at: http://www.sanbuenaventuramission.org/history/mission-history
  • Mission Info Site which used to be at: http://www.californiamissions.com/cahistory/sanbuenaventura.html
  • Mission Info Site which used to be at: http://www.bgmm.com/missions/ventura.htm
  • Mission Trip Report at: http://www.tsoft.net/~cmi/Buenaventura.rpt.html
  • Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record San Buenaventura Mission Data Sheet at the Library of Congress


Navigation for Mission San Buenaventura:

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