Many consider Santa Barbara the Queen of the Missions. In its regal setting atop a hillside and framed to the backdrop of the Santa Ynez Mountains, you can see the twin tower structure from vistas in Santa Barbara and observe its beauty from a distance. The 10th of the California missions, the Santa Barbara Mission was founded by Franciscan Friar Fermin de Lasuen on the Feast of St. Barbara, December 4, 1786.
Open daily except holidays, guests can visit the grounds for free but must purchase a tour ticket to gain admission to the gate portions of the property that include Mission Gardens, a Cemetery, Church and Museum. Tours are self-guided with special architectural and guided tours costing a few dollars more.
The only mission with two bell towers is also unique for its stone facade patterned after an ancient Latin temple in pre-Christian Rome. The design is traced to a book brought to California by the Franciscans, a Spanish reprint of an architecture book originally published in 27 B.C.
An archive of significant and rare documents are housed in the mission headquarters in Santa Barbara. Scholars have discovered and written about the physical hardships and every day occurrences of the padres and native Chumash Indians who built several missions and lived and worked on the grounds or tended to the livestock and crops. These accounts appear in hand-written journals that still exist.
Some ask why the Chumash, a sophisticated native culture with its own trading system, elaborate basket-making skills, and even monetary system, would relinquish rights and agree to live on mission lands, working for someone else. The answers are somewhat illusive but scholars find clues that the Chumash were fascinated with items that were brought by ship from Spain, and they were enamored with the lifestyle of the Spaniards who farmed, made wines, and introduced many cultural amenities to the area.
Farmers today are embattled over water rights in California, but Mission Santa Barbara created a water source for the mission through a sophisticated and elaborate plan. Water from a creek located in the hills two miles above the mission was transported via a stone aqueduct, to storage tanks. Separate tanks held water for individualized needs, with a filtration system cleaning the particles that appeared naturally in the drinking water. While that water continue to trickle down that creek today, it would not be safe to drink it because of pollutants.
Several earthquakes have rocked the mission to its foundation. One major earthquake in 1812, only 24 years after she was built, caused major damage to Mission Santa Barbara. From the documents Padre Seņan's that the "severe conditions have been rendered even more severe by the horrible temblors and earthquakes that have been experienced in this province and which will constitute a special epoch in it because of the great resulting damages. The violence of these occurrences have been extraordinary. As a result of the ruinous events we have to build anew the churches of Missions San Fernando and Santa Barbara.
At Missions Santa Ines and San Buenaventura quite some time will be required to repair the damage which I consider annoying to describe in detail. Concerning the last named mission I will say only that the tower partially fell and that the wall of the sanctuary was cracked from top to bottom.
At Mission Purisima the bells rang out without the aid of a bell ringer and in a few minutes the mission was reduced to rubble and ruin presenting the picture of a destroyed Jerusalem. With the permission of the government the mission is to be rebuilt at a place about a league and a fourth distant called Los Berros which offers notable and known advantages." -Padre José Seņan, O.F.M.,
The church at Mission Santa Barbara was rebuilt with thicker walls and was completed in 1820. This church was damaged again in yet another earthquake in 1925, and was repaired.
With lack of supplies to build missions with sophisticated architecture and products, the missions were mostly made of clay bricks originally, and obviously were not made to withstand earthquakes.