Santa Barbara Mission

In April 1782, Governor Neve, with sixty soldiers, arrived at Santa Barbara, thirty miles west by north I of the new Ventura, so named, and built a presidio for the military protection of the Mission near the beach, which here curves to form a small bay. The site selected was not far from the old Indian mound, on a high mesa, upwards of a mile from the coast, commanding a view of the Santa Inez Mountains on the north, and the ocean in other directions for more than a hundred miles on a clear day. An electric railway now extends from the coast to the Mission. Monticello, to the east, is as sunny and romantic an incline of foothills as the eye rests upon in a thousand leagues of coast land. April 29, 1782, the Governor and soldiers and a great mass of wondering Indians looked on, while Padre Serra celebrated the usual mass and preached a sermon; and then the Governor took possession of the country in the names of God and the King, the poor natives not realizing that they had so lost the hunting and fishing grounds possessed by them for ages.

Serra expected the immediate building of the Mission, but the Governor determined that the presidio should first be built, to insure protection against the possibility that the aboriginal owners, when their wonderment had ceased, would raise the question. of title. Serra, sad and grieved at the Governor’s decision, submitted, called for a priest from San Juan Capistrano, and departed for Monterey. Once again he visited the site of the Mission, and even then no steps had been taken toward building. He shed many tears and in great earnestness prayed the Lord to “send forthwith laborers to His vineyard.” Again he departed on foot, his usual mode of traveling throughout his missionary’s life. He was never able to see the seed planted by him in Santa Barbara bear blossom and fruitage, for he died on the twenty-eighth of August, 1784, yielding up to God a glorious life, which was nevertheless full of bitterness and disappointment.

Father Palou, the biographer and dearest friend of Serra, was most fittingly appointed President of the Missions, but not until December 15, 1786, after Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen succeeded Palou, was the Mission of Santa Barbara in reality founded. In the ensuing year the buildings were erected,-a chapel, a kitchen, a servants room, a granary, a house for the padres, and a house for unmarried women. All walls were three feet thick, of adobe, with heavy pole rafters and thatched roofs. Then many Indians were converted and joined the Mission. In 1788 the buildings were tiled, others erected, and three hundred and ten Indians were entered upon the register of the Mission. For several years the process of erection continued, until 1794, when a large church, in which were several small chapels of elaborate construction and decorative design, completed the Mission buildings. Eight years later a massive stone reservoir of sufficient capacity for storing water for the gardens and orchards was built, receiving its supply of water from an aqueduct leading from the reservoir to the confluence of the East and West Mission creeks, having their sources high upon the Santa Inez Mountains, about two and a half miles distant, and supposed to form what the Spaniards at the time called the Pedragosa Creek. Some time later a dam was constructed across the creek a mile away, to hold water for operating a mill erected on a hill east of the Mission, and conducted there through the aqueduct. The reservoir used for irrigating the gardens and orchards was in front of the Mission buildings across the roadway, running past them to the mountains and east to Monticello and west to the old Mission of San Miguel, two leagues away, and to various points along the coast westward. The dam and conduits as much of them as is not in ruins-are now used to furnish water for the city. The work served well the original purpose, and suggested to the future generations the most advantageous lines upon which to draw their waters from the clouds and snows of the mountains.

The quarters occupied by the Indians were in the rear and west of the main buildings, surrounded by adobe and stone walls, enclosing several acres, with comfortable houses suited to their use. All these are now represented by lines of decayed rubbish and ruin, the last vestiges of the homes of the poor natives. The principal structures are still in good and habitable condition. Regular religious services are held there, and an excellent school is maintained for common and advanced instruction, open to all classes without distinction of creed. The Mission is no longer a ruin, but restored to a semblance of its ancient usefulness, when hundreds of God’s primitive children clustered around it begging for shelter, food, and blessing.

Its former prosperity was great, and tempted the avarice of both Spain and Mexico, until the claims became so extortionate and burdensome that the padres were often driven to the brink of despair, and the Indians brought to poverty. Spain plundered; but Mexico ruined. The wolves of the Government ravaged and devoured until the lambs of the Church became extinct. In 1853, by an order from Rome, the Mission was changed into a hospice, to become later an apostolic college for novitiates; but having no ecclesiastical fund for support, the college made no progress. In 1885 it was annexed to the Order of the United States, officially centralized in the city of St. Louis, and is a beneficiary of the Province of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The city of Santa Barbara is the favorite residence of the old Mexican aristocracy in Southern California. The fertile plains and valleys and pastures around it, its even, balmy climate, and its location by the sea made it the attractive center and practically the capital of the State during Mexican occupation succeeding the Mission days, though nominally the seat of the Government was at Monterey.

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