Stately Santa Barbara
is the best preserved and probably the best known of the California Missions
the only one continuously in the hands of the Franciscans since its founding
(1786). In magnificent condition, it serves as St. Barbara's Parish church
today and is the only mission with an alter flame that has been burning
without interruption for more than a century and a half.
Often called "The Queen
of the Missions" because of its majestic twin towered architecture, regal
location and romantic environment, Santa Barbara has had this usage consistently
nurtured by its resident Franciscans. (However, the use of this title can
be confusing. Mission San Gabriel had earlier earned recognition as "The
Queen" for its pre-eminence during the "golden era" of the missions 1776
The special status of
Santa Barbara goes back to the period 1833 to 1846 when Father Narciasco
Duran, then Presidente of the California Missions, chose it for the site
of his office. In 1835 Jose Figueroa, the greatest Mexican governor of
California, requested to be buried at the Santa Barbara Mission. And when
the Right Reverend Francisco Garcia Diego, California's first Bishop, arrived
in 1842 he made the mission his headquarters.
Classical Roman is combined
with traditional mission style in the architecture of the massive stone
church, com pleted in 1820 to replace the adobe chapel that was destroyed
in the earthquake of 1812. With heavily-buttressed 6-foot-thick walls,
the new church withstood all challenges until the 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake
toppled one of its towers, severely damaged the ornate facade and caused
major interior structural problems. Supposedly repaired
by 1927, the mission subsequently developed large
cracks that necessitated further reconstruction of the front of the building-completed
in 1953 at a cost of nearly a half- million dollars.
The Santa Barbara story
really starts with its presidio (fort) four years before the mission founding.
Governor Felipe de Neve gave strong priority to military and civic settlements
and took a dim view of new missions, so he established a presidio at Santa
Barbara in 1782 and Father Junipero Serra, who was present at its dedication,
was bitterly disappointed to find that the governor would not approve a
Santa Barbara mission the same year.
In 1786, after the death
of Serra and the replacement of the governor, the great mission builder
Father Fermin Lasuen was finally allowed to dedicate the Santa Barbara
mission site on a commanding knoll more than a mile north of the presidio.
From the start, the Franciscans found the Canalino Indians helpful and
friendly-the same high type of Chumash whose industrious nature had already
been observed at San Buenaventura.
Although Santa Barbara
never came close to matching San Gabriel for livestock, agricultural production
or total wealth, her 5,000 cattle, 11,000 sheep and hundreds of horses
enjoyed widespread grazing lands and her crops were watered by such a durable
aqueduct (build by 400 Indians) that some of it is still in use as part
of the Santa Barbara municipal water system. In addition to irrigation,
its reservoirs furnished water for the kitchen and flour mill as well as
the attractive star-shaped fountain and lavenderia that has been standing
in front of the mission since 1808.
Saved from attack by
the privateer Bouchard in 1818 when resourceful Father Antonio Ripoll drilled
and armed some of his Indians to back up the presidio guard, Santa Barbara
Mission was also spared the potentially disastrous effects of the Secularization
Act by the presence of popular and outspoken Presidente Duran and prestigious
Santa Barbara, the tenth Alta California mission, was founded on December
4, 1786. This was the year, on the other side of the continent, that the
Annapolis Convention was held, leading to the U.S. Constitution. December
4th is the feast day of Saint Barbara, virgin and martyr, an Asia Minor
Christian beauty whose tragic death at the hands of her pagan father occurred
about the year 240 A.D.