Mission Santa Barbara

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 American people. The mission is the namesake of the city of Santa Barbara as well as of 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.


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 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 by 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 under the direction of the Franciscans (including aqueducts, two reservoirs, a filter house, and a hydro-powered gristmill) remain to this day. The larger reservoir, which was built in 1806 by the expedient of damming a canyon, had been a functioning component of the City's water system until 1993. 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 ruins of the Mission's tanning vats, pottery kiln, aqueduct system, and guard house are located on the abutting land in the municipally-owned Mission Historical Park that was sold to the City in 1928.

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 an apostolic 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 become San Luis Rey College from 1950 to 1968 before relocating to Berkeley, California what is today the Franciscan School of Theology (FST).

Present-day situation

Mission Santa Barbara today continues to serve the community as a parish church. In addition to its use as a place of worship, it contains a gift shop, a museum, a Franciscan Friary, and a retreat house. The Mission grounds are a primary tourist attraction in Santa Barbara. The Mission itself is owned by the Franciscan Province of Santa Barbara, and the local parish rents the church from the Franciscans. For many decades in the late 20th century, Fr. Virgil Cordano, OFM served as the pastor of the St. Barbara's Parish co-located on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Mission. He died in 2008. Beginning in the summer of 2017, the Mission will also serve as the Interprovincial Novitiate for the English Speaking Provinces of the Franciscan Friars (Observants).

See also

  • Spanish missions in California
  • List of Catholic cathedrals in the United States
  • List of cathedrals in the United States
  • USNS Mission Santa Barbara (AO-131) – a Mission Buenaventura Class fleet oiler built during World War II.
  • History of Santa Barbara, California


  • Forbes, Alexander (1839). California: A History of Upper and Lower California. Smith, Elder and Co., Cornhill, London. 
  • Jones, Terry L. and Kathryn A. Klar (eds.) (2007). California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity. Altimira Press, Landham, MD. ISBN . 
  • Krell, Dorothy (ed.) (1979). The California Missions: A Pictorial History. Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, CA. ISBN . 
  • Leffingwell, Randy (2005). California Missions and Presidios: The History & Beauty of the Spanish Missions. Voyageur Press, Inc., Stillwater, MN. ISBN . 
  • Paddison, Joshua (ed.) (1999). A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA. ISBN . 
  • Ruscin, Terry (1999). Mission Memoirs. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA. ISBN . 
  • Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN . 
  • Hispanic Catholicism in transitional California: the life of José González Rubio, O.F.M. (1804–1875), by Michael Charles Neri, published 1997 by the Academy of American Franciscan History (v.14, history monograph series).

External links

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30 July 2014
A true Santa Barbara landmark, this historic building, ten acre garden, active parish and mausoleum, is still home to a group of Franciscan friars as it was when it was built by the Spanish in 1786.
Visit Santa Barbara
Visit Old Mission Santa Barbara for both historical and natural beauty. “The Queen of the Missions” features astonishing rose gardens in the spring and early summer.
Jenna North
16 July 2013
The self-guided tour takes about an hour. Make sure to check out the La Huerta Historic Gardens next to the mission, it’s filled with all sorts of plants and orchard trees.
Kelley L.
15 August 2020
Beautiful piece of Alta California history. There is an admissions fee for entry, but you can enjoy the grass area and have a picnic as well.
samantha lipari
5 August 2013
The rose gardens at the mission are beautiful! If you ever have the day off, go have a picnic there and make sure to bring your camera:)
John Kidde
24 May 2017
A historic site in California history. Learn about early California and take a tour of the gardens and the mission itself.
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Denis Kolesnikov, Sergey Topchiy and 99,584 more people have been here
2201 Laguna St, Santa Barbara, CA 93105, USA Get directions
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