10th California Mission

Father Junipero Fermin Lasuen founded the Mission Santa Barbara on December 4th, 1786. It was the tenth of California’s 21 missions, and it became known as the “Queen of the Missions.”
Mission Santa Barbara by Chris Brown

Mission Santa Barbara by Chris Brown

Location and Dedication of Mission Santa Barbara

The mission was named for Saint Barbara, and it was the first mission founded by Father Lasuen. Father Serra originally dedicated the site on which the mission sits as a military fort, but lacking authorization from the church, Serra did not found a mission there. Two years later, after Father Serra’s death, the church authorized a mission in that location, so Father Lasuen dedicated the site.

Construction and Destruction of Mission Santa Barbara

The original mission buildings were constructed of wooden logs. However, in the late 1700’s, construction began on a series of increasingly larger adobe churches. The largest of these, containing six side chapels, was destroyed in the 1812 earthquake. The church that stands on the site now was built after the earthquake. It is quite large, standing 161 feet long, 41 feet high, and 27 feet wide. Although originally only planned with one, a second bell tower was added in 1833. The Mission Santa Barbara was, and still is, the only California mission with two bell towers.

How Did Mission Santa Barbara Support Itself

Like most California missions, the Mission Santa Barbara supported itself and the Native inhabitants of the area by growing crops of wheat and corn. They also raised herds of horses and cattle, and cultivated grapes in a vineyard. The mission maintained an economy that was based heavily on labor done by the Native Americans.

Native Americans and Mission Santa Barbara

The Chumash tribe populated much of California’s coastline, including the area of Santa Barbara. These Indians learned more than 50 trades at the mission, which allowed them to earn money for the Mission Santa Barbara itself, as well as to earn a living outside the mission community. The Chumash also contributed to the mission’s economy by their skills in the water. They were experienced fishermen and boat-builders. With these skills, they helped to institutionalize an Ocean-based economy for the mission.

The mission was quite successful in its agricultural pursuits. This was due in large part to a water system so sophisticated that parts of it are still in use today in the city of Santa Barbara. A stone aqueduct system channeled water from a stream two miles away to a large holding tank near the mission. Some water was even sent through a filtration system to make it suitable for drinking.

Mission Santa Barbara Today

Today, remnants of the thriving economy at the mission are still present. Bordering one edge of the mission’s quadrangle stands a row of more than 200 Indian huts, memorializing the Native Americans who spent their lives working for the Mission Santa Barbara.