Mission Santa Barbara

Recent mudslides in Montecito, just south of Santa Barbara, closed Highway 101 for nearly two weeks.  Kongo tried to visit the old mission there earlier but couldn’t get through.  You literally couldn’t get to Santa Barbara from LA unless you took the train, rode a boat from Ventura, or drove about four hours through the mountains.  Even now there is a lot of construction along the freeway causing large traffic backups.

Anyway, the monkey made it yesterday and he was glad he did.  Those guys at CalTrans do a great job!

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Mission Santa Barbara was the tenth mission built by Franciscan friars in the 18th century.  The string of missions stretch from Mission de Alcalá in San Diego all the way past San Francisco into Northern California.  The mission in Santa Barbara was founded twenty years after the San Diego mission and was the first one not built by the legendary Father Junípero Serra.  (He died in 1784.)  The Santa Barbara church was founded on the day of the Feast of Santa Barbara (December 4) in 1786.

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The mission was rebuilt several times over the years as the congregation expanded and to repair damage caused by earthquakes.  The mission in its present form was completed in 1870 although significant repairs were initiated to the bell towers which collapsed on congregants during a earthquake while a service was underway in 1925.

Kongo was struck by the architecture of this mission, which combines Spanish colonial, Roman, and Greek elements into a pleasing and attractive structure.  Note the symmetry and balance of the front facade, the balanced bell towers, the orderly columns on either side of the doorway.  The church is built around a primary north/south axis that runs from the front door through the sanctuary inside.  This is Roman influence.  Each side of the axis is a mirror image of the opposite side.  But there are also the Ionic columns and the statues balanced on the triangular pediment.  This is all Greek.  The buildings to the side of the main church are Spanish Colonial.  The church itself is made of stone while the other buildings attached to it are fashioned from adobe bricks, the traditional building material in the 18th and 19th centuries in Southern California.

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The purpose of the mission was to bring Christianity to the local Chumash people who inhabited the region when the Spanish arrived.  It also served to facilitate the colonization of California.  The arrival of the Spanish basically destroyed the thriving Chumash culture which had existed in the region for more than 13,000 years.  Natives moved from their traditional villages to the missions — sometimes forcefully — and European diseases devastated the indigenous population.

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Mission Santa Barbara claims to be the only mission in service since its founding.  Kongo challenged this assertion because he’s seen services at the missions in San Diego and San Juan Capistrano but the docents in the Santa Barbara put a fine line on it by saying their mission had continuous services while there were breaks in services at the other mission.  Whatever.  A lot of the missions still have active parishes today.

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The gardens in the mission contain many native plants and provide a quiet place for reflection and meditation.  An Episcopal Benedictine monastery is adjacent to the mission and has a guest house available for rent.  If you’re looking for a very quiet few days this is the spot for you.

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There is also a cemetery behind the church where former friars and important people rest.  And Juana Maria, the subject of that book all California 4th graders now read, is buried in an unmarked plot in the graveyard.  In the book, Island of the Blue Dolphin by Scott O’Dell, a young woman of the Nicoleño tribe gets left behind on San Nicholas Island when her people are evacuated to the mainland.  She lives alone there for 18 years until she is discovered and brought to the mission in Santa Barbara.  This is pretty much a story based on historical facts.  The woman died after only seven weeks on the mainland, reportedly from eating too much rich food that she was unaccustomed to digesting.  A photograph of her is at the mission.

Woman believed to be the Lone Woman of San Nicholas Island, Juana Maria — Wikipedia


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A visit to the mission is a great day trip and a good spot to picnic while learning about California’s early history after the arrival of the Spanish.  Docent and self guided tours are available.  Find out more information at the mission website.

Travel safe.  Have fun!

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