Mission Santa Barbara was founded as the 10th in the chain of Alta California missions and it the only one still led by Franciscan friars. Established in December 1786, the mission is located on a rise between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains. The mission had been established by Father Fermin Lasuen who took over the presidency of the mission chain following the death of Father Presidente Junipero Serra two years earlier.
Located in present day Santa Barbara, many of the original mission's elements are still in place today, including the mission's impressive water system. Mission Santa Barbara had an extensive water treatment system that included aqueducts, reservoirs and a filter house. The original water system was built by the Chumash native people and used to irrigate fields that grew wheat, barley, corn, beans, peas, oranges and olive trees.
Later in 1807, a larger reservoir resulted when a canyon was dammed. This water source is still used in Santa Barbara's modern-day water supply and is located in the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. Visitors to Mission Santa Barbara can also see a grain mill, guard house, tanning vats and pottery kiln.
Mission Santa Barbara thrived with great numbers of cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, mules and horses Natives made tiles, shoes and garments from wool. They learned to build things using wood and masonry. Natives also sang and played European instruments like violins, cellos and woodwinds.
Three different chapels were built at the mission during the early years. Construction on the current mission began after an earthquake in 1812 which destroyed mission buildings. The new chapel was dedicated in 1820. Another earthquake in 1925 seriously damaged the chapel's towers. They were rebuilt in 1927, but the interior of the chapel has not changed much since 1820.
Secularization and Modern History
Mission Santa Barbara escaped much of the ruination that occurred to the other missions following secularization. That's because the last father presidente and first bishop of California lived at the mission and were able to protect it. By the time the men died in 1846, California had become a territory of the United States and the mission was protected from being seized.
When the Mexican Congress secularized the missions in 1834, some 3,000 original documents that had been scattered throughout the mission system were transferred to Mission Santa Barbara. The documents remain at the mission, making it the oldest library in the state and center for historical study of all the missions.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln returned Mission Santa Barbara to the Catholic Church. It was operated by the diocese until 1925 when the mission was given to the Franciscans.
The mission has played an important educational role during its history. It served as an apostolic college from 1854 to 1885. Then, from 1869 to 1877, it was a lay college for men, and in 1896, a high school seminary program was created. In 1929, the college-level seminary program was moved to the mission at San Luis Rey. The college is now the Franciscan School of Theology.
Mission Santa Barbara has the longest tradition of choral singing among any California institution. Weekly Catholic liturgy is sung by two choirs, and the mission archives hold a vast collection of colonial Franciscan music manuscripts.