Mission Santa Barbara

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Mission Santa Barbara (Saint Barbara, a martyr for early Christianity)

A brief history

The Mission Santa Barbara is the 10th mission founded in California. It was founded on December 4, 1786 by Friar Fermin Lasuen. Named for Saint Barbara, a beautiful daughter of Dioscorus of Nicomedia who enraged at her adoption of the Christian faith had her imprisoned than beheaded with his own sword. Legend has it that he was then struck dead by a bolt of lightning.

Father Serra devised a plan for three missions, protected by a presido to bridge the gap between San Luis Obispo and San Gabriel. The first mission was San Buenaventura, which was found on March 31, 1782. Unfortunately Governor Neve would not authorize additional missions because he opposed the expansion of the mission system since it gave the padres great economic power. Father Serra accompanied Governor Neve to the presidio location at Santa Barbara without realizing that the governor had already persuaded the Viceroy to withhold funds for a separate mission.

Father Serra blessed the location of presidio and performed Mass, then the soldiers began construction of the fort. Under the impression that the Governor would authorize the mission founding, Father Serra waited there for nearly three weeks before the Governor told Father Serra that the mission would not be approved until the presido was completed. Sadly, Father Serra departed to Carmel. He visited the presidio twice the next year but died a month after a new Governor, Pedro Fages, announced that the mission could now be founded.

Father Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, the successor to Father Serra, thus founded Mission Santa Barbara. On December 4th, 1786 the site was dedicated at a place called the El Pedregoso (Rocky Mound). On December 16th, 1786 the formal dedication attended by the new Governor was held. In spring the first buildings were started. They were made of logs, topped by beams covered with reeds and then made of mud and thatch. Later an adobe wing was added and more buildings until the standard quadrangle was eventually completed. Approximately 250 native homes were built in rows to the left of the mission. A water system was completed along with a tannery, pottery and more warehouses. The water system still has parts of it in use to this day by the city of Santa Barabara.

In 1808, a Moorish fountain was build, surrounded by some pepper trees. As the mission grew, three churches were built, each larger than the one before. In 1812, a large earthquake almost completely destroyed the last one. It was repaired and used for several years while a new bigger stone church was built around it. This church, the one that stands today was dedicated in September of 1820 after five years of construction. In 1925 another earthquake damaged this church and fortunately California paid for the repairs this time. But in 1950 cracks appeared in the façade. The concrete used in 1925 had weakened the front of the church and it had to be rebuilt using steel-reinforced concrete. The stone facing retains the original appearance. Patterned after an ancient temple in early Rome. The design has been traced to a book brought to California by the Franciscans, a Spanish reprint of an architecture book originally published in 27 B.C. Santa Barbara escaped most of the exploitation that plagued the other missions during secularization.

Assisted by the joint residency of the last Padre Presidente and the first Bishop of the Californias. By the time both men died in 1846, California had then become United States Territory and thus protected the lands and buildings from being seized.

Today Santa Barbara is the only mission in the California chain remaining under control of the Franciscans without interruption from the day of its founding until the present time. It is the only California mission with two similar towers and has the nickname “Queen of the Missions”. Amazingly enough the mission archives preserve the actual record book of the mission, which Father Serra started during those three weeks of waiting for authorization to start the mission.

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