While wandering through the lovely city of Santa Barbara, in southern California, it would be very difficult to overlook the alluring architecture of Mission Santa Barbara. The historic building is beautifully preserved and reflects the SoCal light wonderfully throughout the day. The mission’s graveyard holds the remains of over 4,000 Chumash Indians, and the interior architecture is captivating… But the cemetery and inner spaces will have to wait for a later blog installment. For this article I will focus primarily on the outside of the building… This beautiful structure has caught our attention for years and we eventually realized it had to be captured at sunrise in order to do it justice. As we arrived at 7 AM we were given the gift of a gorgeous, crystal clear, peaceful morning to contemplate the details and the grandeur of the mission.
The original chapel was constructed by Chumash-Barbareño Indian labor in 1786. It was founded by Padre Fermín Lasuén as the tenth Spanish mission in the Franciscan order for the religious conversion of the local American Indians. Interestingly, this is the only mission founded by the Franciscan Friars to remain under their leadership since its founding. There is so much violence and sacrifice in the story of the building of the missions and the associated efforts by the Spanish to convert the native people of California. I will not dwell on that bloody and divisive history except to say that I am deeply saddened by the practices of the Spanish during that era, which contributed very significantly to the destruction of the cultures that occupied these lands for generations prior to the Europeans’ arrival.
The early mission chapel was destroyed by an earthquake in 1812. The chapel was rebuilt and dedicated in 1820, and again ravaged by earthquake in 1925. The structure that greets us today was constructed in 1927 and 1953.
After indulging our minds’ eye with the captivating facade and mission grounds/gardens we began to explore more deeply, discovering the outlying, very old structures built by the Indians and associated with the mission. Aside from the main structure there are many intriguing features and water works…
California State Historic Landmark #309 reads:
“Santa Barbara Mission was founded December 4, 1786. Portions of five units of its extensive water works, built by Indian labor, are preserved in this park – a filter house, Spanish grist mill, sections of aqueducts, and two reservoirs. The larger reservoir, built in 1806, is used today as part of the city water system. Ruins of the pottery kiln and tanning vats are here, also. The fountain and lavadero are nearby in front of the Old Mission. A dam, built in 1807, is located in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, one and one-half miles up Mission Canyon.”
Mission Santa Barbara itself certainly has an interesting history, and it has housed since 1833 an extensive archive of approximately 3,000 original documents culled from throughout the California mission system. There is a lot of information, history and lore about this mission available on the web for those who wish to learn more… here we chose to focus on a visit to this historic site early one winter morning. We hope you enjoy our visual journey and that it stimulates you to delve deeper into the history of this gorgeous structure.