The California Missions On-Line Project
Mission Santa Barbara
Founded December 4, 1786

Founding of the mission

Mission Santa Barbara was founded on December 4, 1786 by Father Fermin Lasuen, Presidente of the California Missions Chain. It was the 10th mission in the 21 mission chain in Alta California. It was named for Saint Barbara. Father Serra wanted to start this mission two years before it actually was founded. He could not get permission from the governor at that time. By the time authorisation came to begin a mission, Father Serra was dying in Carmel. Mission Santa Barbara was named "Queen of the Missions". It sits high on a hill overlooking the city of Santa Barbara and the Pacific Ocean. During the first few years, there were a total of three churches built, each larger than the previous one. The final and remaining church is 161 feet long, 27 feet wide and 42 feet high. It has two matching bell towers that are each 87 feet tall. The appearance of the inside of the church has not changed since 1820.

Back to the top

Local Indians
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Cemetery

The Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara area were friendly and willing to help the padres with the construction of this new mission. The coast of California was home to many Indians. There were about 10,000 Chumash Indians between San Buenaventura and Point Concepcion. They lived in reed huts in large well designed villages. The Chumash were expert boatbuilders and lived off the Pacific Ocean. They would often travel to the Channel Islands in their 24 foot long boats to fish and gather food. Two hundred-fifty Indians homes were built next to the mission. They learned the skills and trades of the mission including how to get water. The padres taught them how to build a water system to get water to the mission for drinking, cooking, cleaning and irrigation. This water system was so well built, that a part of it is still used today by the City of Santa Barbara. In 1807, there were about 1,700 Indians living at the mission. In the cemetery at the mission, there are over 4,000 Indians buried, including Juana Maria. She was known as "the woman of San Nicolas Island" and for whom the book "Island of the Blue Dolphins" was based.

Back to the top

Economy of the mission

The main economy at this mission and all of the missions was agriculture and raising animals. In 1809, there were 5,000 head of cattle. In 1821, there were 12,820 bushels harvested. The Indians learned more than 50 different trades at Mission Santa Barbara which would allow them to earn a living in the white men's world. The mission had orange and olive trees growing in large orchards. The water system brought water to grow wheat, barley, corn, beans and peas.

Back to the top

The community
Click here to see a video Inside the Mission Quadrangle

In the quadrangle, there was the church, servant quarters, a sleeping place for the young native women, a tannery, a kitchen, a priests' house and storerooms. The quadrangle was a place of work and fiesta. Much of the labor was done within the quadrangle by the Indians and when the celebrations were held, they too, were in the quadrangle. The City of Santa Barbara grew up around theSanta Barbara Mission .

Back to the top


After Mexico won its independence from Spain, it found that it could no longer afford to keep the missions running as Spain had done. In 1834, Mexico decided to end the mission system and sell all of the lands. They offered the lands to the Indians who did not want the lands or could not come up with the purchase price. The lands were divided into smaller Ranchos and sold to Mexican citizens who were helpful during the war for independence. After nearly 30 years, the missions were returned to the Catholic Church. Although some of the missions had already been returned to the church, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed an Act declaring that all of the 21 missions in the California mission chain would become the property of the Catholic Church and have remained so since that time. When the Mexican priests took over the missions north of Mission San Antonio de Padua, Father Duran, Presidente of the missions chain moved his office to Santa Barbara. California's first bishop also moved to Santa Barbara, with both of these important priests at the mission the Mexican government did not try to take charge or sell the mission. When both of these priests died in 1846, Pio Pico tried to sell the mission, however, California became an American territory just in time to stop the sale. This is why Mission Santa Barbara is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since the day of its founding until today.

Back to the top


Mission Santa Barbara is the only California mission never to have been abandoned. It has remained in continuous use by the padres since the founding day in 1786. They took good care of this mission and thus there never really was a rebirth as in some of the other missions. The mission has been well maintained and repaired through all of the years.

Back to the top

Current use

The City of Santa Barbara has been built near the mission. The Mission Santa Barbara today, continues to serve the city as a parish church with many active members.

Back to the top

Graphic tour
Click below to see a video Inside the Mission Church
Back to the top

Mission Quiz

Objective: answer 7 questions correctly. JavaScript required!

1. Who was the founder of Mission Santa Barbara?

Junipero Serra
Gaspar de Portola
Fermin Lasuen
Sebastian Vizcaino

2. Mission Santa Barbara was founded....?

December 4, 1786
September 21, 1769
April 21, 1782
June 14, 1804

3. What Indian Tribe was in the area of the Santa Barbara Mission?


4. Mission Santa Barbara is know as...?

King of the Missions
Queen of the Missions
Princess of the Missions
Father Serra's home

5. Who did the actual building of the missions?

construction companies
the priests
the soldiers
the local Indians

6. What happened to the missions in 1834?

They opened
The Indians took over

7. Santa Barbara is the only mission...?

that has been completely rebuilt
without a church
run by the Franciscan Friars from its founding to today
with a bell tower

8. Part of the water system at the mission...?

was built by soldiers
is on the Navajo reservation
is still being used by the city of Santa Barbara today
is named after Father Serra

9. What happened in 1846?

An earthquake
Missions were taken over by Mexican priests
California became an American territory

10. What did Abraham Lincoln agree to in 1863?

Formally return the Mission lands to the Church
Run for President of the United States
Visit the San Antonio de Padua Mission
force the Indians to leave the Mission

Back to the top

The Mission Page | The Assessment Page |Main Page

Other Santa Barbara sites:

California Mission Internet Trail

The Spanish Missions of California

California Missions Interactive Homepage

California Missions

California Missions

This project written by Rob Garretson in partial fulfilment of the Master's of Arts Degree from Cal Poly Pomona

Please send questions and/or comments to Mr. Garretson

This page last updated on February 28, 2015