Mission Santa Barbára, also known as The Queen of the Missions, is the only one of the 21 in California to remain under Franciscan stewardship since its inception to present day.
The first mission buildings were made of logs, with thatch roofs. Later an adobe wing completed the quadrangle with a dormitory, kitchen and storeroom. There were also rows of over 200 houses for the mission natives built next to the mission.
Eventually, construction of a second quadrangle was begun adjacent to the first. Throughout all this construction, a succession of larger adobe churches were built. The largest one, completed in 1794, had six side chapels and was destroyed in the 1812 earthquakes. Work began on a new stone church 161 feet long, 42 feet high, and 27 feet wide. Initially only one tower was included, but in 1833 a second tower was added, making it the only mission with two towers.
The water system at this mission was so extraordinary that parts of it are still used today by the city of Santa Barbára. It was the most elaborate water system of all the missions. Water from a dammed creek in the hills two miles above the mission was carried by a stone aqueduct to a storage basin near the church. There was even a separate branch with a filtration system used for drinking water.
Very early in writing The Sailor and The Carpenter, Book One of Father Serra's Legacy, I encountered some gaps and questions I could not find answers for online. I contacted the Franciscan Friars there. I cannot express enough thanks for their help and information. They even went so far as to send me a hardback book, Hispanic California Revisited, which provided a goldmine of things I couldn't find anywhere else.
From its founding, there have been very many different buildings on the site. An earthquake in 1814 did serious damage to the fourth and the friars set out to erect a stone building finished in 1820. Finally, in 1827, Father Antonio Ripoli, with two hundred Indian volunteers working in a woolen mill, started on the last. But, with Mexico taking the lands and buildings away from the church, Father Ripoli sailed for Spain in an American brig. The Indians fell to their knees and sobbed loudly at the departure of the beloved “Father.”
An effort was undertaken by the Franciscan to turn the mission into a hospice and then a school for those who wished to take to the cloth. Rome didn't have the money and the church continued to languish. I know some of the friars remained in the area during the period of Mexican rule, harbored and cared for by the Indians they were so often accused of enslaving and torturing.
Finally, in 1885 with the Americans coming into power, the mission became part of the St. Louis, Missouri, Province of the Friars Minor.
I love this picture as it's a perfect replica of what the friars in the 1700s were able to construct. Just look at the difference between the crude structure and the magnificent church in the background. How did they do it?
Efforts have also been undertaken to restore the Presidio. Many of the soldiers serving there received land grants from the Mexican governor as a bribe to keep them from rising up against the far away government in Mexico City.
I hope that if you ever visit California, you will take the time to stop by and sit on a bench in the beautiful gardens or enter the chapel to see replicas of what those friars did more than two centuries ago.