Mission Santa Barbara, also known as Santa Barbara Mission, is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscan order near present-day Santa Barbara, California. It was founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén on December 4, 1786, the feast day of Saint Barbara, as the tenth mission for the religious conversion of the indigenous local Chumash—Barbareño tribe of Native Americanpeople. The mission is the namesake of the city of Santa Barbara as well as Santa Barbara County.
The Mission grounds occupy a rise between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, and were consecrated by Father Fermín Lasuén, who had taken over the presidency of the California mission chain upon the death of Father Presidente Junípero Serra. Mission Santa Barbara is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since its founding, and today is a parish church of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
It is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.
Mission Santa Barbara’s name comes from the legend of Saint Barbara, a girl who was supposedly beheaded by her father for following the Christian Faith. The early missionaries built three different chapels during the first few years, each larger than the previous one. It was only after the great Santa Barbara Earthquake on December 21, 1812, which destroyed the existing buildings, that the construction on the current Mission was begun. It was completed and then dedicated in 1820. The towers were considerably damaged in the June 29, 1925 earthquake, but were subsequently rebuilt in 1927. The appearance of the inside of the church has not been altered significantly since 1820.
Many elements of the Mission’s extensive water treatment system, all built by Chumash Indians’ labor (including aqueducts, two reservoirs, and a filter house) remain to this day, as does a grain mill; the larger reservoir, which was built in 1806 by the expedient of damming a canyon, has been incorporated into the City’s water system. The original fountain and lavadero are also intact near the entrance to the Mission. A dam constructed in 1807 is situated in the current Santa Barbara Botanic Garden up “Mission Canyon.” The Mission’s tanning vats, pottery kiln, and guard house are all in ruins to this day.
In 1818, two Argentine ships under the command of the French privateer Hipólito Bouchard approached the coast and threatened the young town of Santa Barbara. The padres armed and trained 150 of the neophytes to prepare for attack. With their help, the Presidio soldiers confronted Bouchard, who sailed out of the harbor without attacking.
After the Mexican Congress passed An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California on August 17, 1833 Father Presidente Narciso Durán transferred the missions’ headquarters to Santa Barbara, thereby making Mission Santa Barbara the repository of some 3,000 original documents that had been scattered through the California missions.
The Santa Barbara Mission-Archive Library is now an independent non-profit educational and research institution that is separate from Mission Santa Barbara, but occupying a portion of the mission building complex. Some Franciscans serve on the Board of Trustees along with scholars and community members; the institution is directed by a lay academic scholar. It is the oldest library in the State of California that still remains in the hands of its founders, the Franciscans. Beginning with the writings of Hubert Howe Bancroft, the library has served as a center for historical study of the missions for more than a century. The collections of the Santa Barbara Mission-Archive Library had their inception in the 1760s with Fray Junipero Serra’s plans for missions in Alta California. The collections include named sections, the Junipero Serra Collection (1713-1947), the California Mission Documents (1640-1853), and the Apostolic College collection (1853-1885). The archive-library also has a large collection of early California writings, maps, and images as well as a collection of materials for the Tohono O’oodham Indians of Arizona.
In 1840, Alta California Territory and Baja California Territory were removed from the Diocese of Sonora to form the Diocese of Both Californias. Bishop Francisco Garcia Diego y Moreno, OFM, established his cathedra at Mission Santa Barbara, making the chapel the pro-cathedral of the diocese until 1849. Under Bishop Thaddeus Amat y Brusi, C.M., the chapel again served as a pro-cathedral, for the Diocese of Monterey and then the Diocese of Monterey-Los Angeles, from 1853 to 1876. It is for this reason that of all the California missions, only the chapel at Mission Santa Barbara has two matching bell towers. At that time, that particular architectural feature was restricted to a cathedral church.
When President Abraham Lincoln restored the missions to the Catholic Church on March 18, 1865, the Mission’s leader at the time, Friar José González Rubio, came into conflict with Bishop Amat over the matter of whether the Mission should be under the ownership of the Franciscan order rather than the diocese. Bishop Amat refused to give the deed for the Mission to the Franciscans, but in 1925, Bishop John J. Cantwell finally awarded the deed to them.
The Mission also has the oldest unbroken tradition of choral singing among the California Missions and, indeed, of any California institution. The weekly Catholic liturgy is serviced by two choirs, the California Mission Schola and the Cappella Barbara. The Mission archives contain one of the richest collections of colonial Franciscan music manuscripts known today, which remain closely guarded (most have not yet been subjected to scholarly analysis). The original City of Santa Barbara developed between the Mission proper and the harbor, specifically near El Presidio Reál de Santa Bárbara (the “Royal Spanish Presidio”), about a mile southeast of the Mission. As the city grew, it extended throughout the coastal plain; a residential area now surrounds the Mission, although there are public parks (e.g. the Mission Historical Park and Rocky Nook Park) and a few public buildings (such as the Natural History Museum) in the area immediately adjacent to the site.
As the center for the Franciscans the Mission played an important role in education. From 1854 to 1885 it was chartered as anapostolic college and from 1869 to 1877 it also functioned as a college for lay men. Thus making it Santa Barbara’s first institution of higher education. In 1896 this education initiative was led to the creation of a high school seminary program that in 1901 would become a separate institution, Saint Anthony’s Seminary. In 1929 the college level program was relocated to Mission San Luis Rey de Francia and would becomeSan Luis Rey College from 1950 to 1968 before relocating to Berkeley, California what is today the Franciscan School of Theology (FST).
The Mission is located at: 2201 Laguna St.
Santa Barbara, California 93105