The Missions: Number 10

The tenth California mission was also named for a woman: Saint Barbara, a young Egyptian who was beheaded in the 3rd century because she embraced Christianity. Immediately after her death, her executioner was struck by lightning and killed. Thus St. Barbara is popularly regarded as the protector of artillerymen and miners. Santa Barbara Virgen y Martir Mission was founded December 4, 1786, on the saint’s feast day, by Fathers Fermin Lasuen, Antonio Paterna, and Cristobal Oramas. Father Junipero Serra had died two years earlier but he had planned to build this mission, raising the cross at the Presidio of Santa Barbara in 1782. Noted as the Queen of the Missions in its heyday, the original adobe buildings were unpretentious. As time passed, however, progress and development created a total of three adobe churches, each larger than the others. An earthquake destroyed the third in 1812, at which time plans were made for the present church, completed and dedicated in 1820 (although the fountain was built in 1808).  Mission Santa Barbara had cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, mules and horses in great numbers, as well as extensive field crops of wheat, barley, corn, beans and peas; thriving orange and olive orchards, and grapevines. Water to irrigate the fields, and for domestic use, was brought from the mountain creeks via a gravity-operated aqueduct, built by Chumash Indian labor. After secularization in 1834, civil administration resulted in deterioration of both the complex and the resident Indian’s lifestyle. Father Duran became the administrator 5 years later, but in 1846 the government confiscated and sold the mission’s properties. In the years following California’s admission to statehood in 1850, Mission Santa Barbara was used for a variety of purposes, including a Franciscan-run high school for boys, and later a seminary for candidates studying for the priesthood. Today the beautiful, restored complex is a monument to the cultural diversity of California’s Spanish, Mexican, and Native Indian heritage.


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