Mission Santa Barbara, sometimes called the "Queen of the Missions", is considered to be one of the best preserved and most beautiful of the historic Spanish missions which spread across the southwest in the late 18th century.
[Photo, left: The locale of Mission Santa Barbara.]
Located in the city of Santa Barbara, Mission Santa Barbara was founded on December 4, 1786. The main church and
sanctuary as seen today was completed in 1820. The friary residence and other buildings were added later and not completed until 1870.
The Spanish were the original colonizers of the American Southwest,
including California. During the 18th century the Spanish Franciscan Order founded
a series of missions in Arizona and California. Their purpose was essentially
to convert Spain's newest subjects, the native Americans, to Christianity
and educate them in European trades and crafts.
[Photos, above: Left, the artifacts of Bishop Garcia Diego, the first bishop of
California, in his original quarters. Note the ghost in the right side of the photo! Center, the main church and
sanctuary as seen today. Right, the friary residence.]
Historical Background of Mission Santa Barbara and the Spanish Missions
The missionaries of the Franciscan Order, founded in the 12th century by St. Francis of Assisi,
were said to have been benevolent to the Indians and that they acted as advocates. They
introduced modern farming, herding, and trades such as carpentry
and masonry. The local native Americans, the Chumash, were originally hunter-gatherers.
They eventually accepted Christianity and learned European
technology and culture. This has been true in much of the southwest although most Indian
communities also try to preserve their traditional beliefs and crafts.
Although the missionaries were always allowed to conduct services in the church
the mission itself had a varied history in the 19th century. After most of the
Indians were converted, the mission's main purpose was accomplished. The new
Mexican government took over the mission in 1834 and eventually sold the land and
buildings. In 1865, President Lincoln returned the mission to the Catholic Church.
The mission later functioned as a high school, a junior college, and later, a seminary.
It has been a museum since 1968 although the church itself is still active.
The art collections and architecture of the missions have always been impressive.
Santa Barbara is no exception. Much of its beautiful artwork is from the baroque
and neoclassical eras, imported primarily from Mexico and South America.
However there are several notable stone statues carved by a mission Indian. The
beautiful fountain, shown left, was built in 1808, and is of Moorish design.
The church architecture is similar to many built in early 19th century Mexico: neoclassical in style
with devices and features from imperial Rome.
The impressive architecture and beautiful artwork of the missions were intended
to make a powerful impression in an undeveloped land. They still do today.
(Shown right) The skull and crossbones is the Spanish symbol for a
cemetary. This cemetary was established in 1789, and inters thousands of Indians
as well as European settlers and missionaries.)
Below, a diagram of the mission locating the photos shown on this page.
The building complex was perhaps three acres in size.