The Santa Barbara Mission

The Mission in Santa Barbara, California

The Mission in Santa Barbara, California — Image by caradoc from Pixabay

The Santa Barbara Mission is an integral part of Santa Barbara’s history, and also of Santa Barbara’s current community. It’s an interesting combination of landmark, museum, garden, tourist attraction, and place of worship.

The Mission’s history dates all the way back to 1786. To put that in perspective, its establishment was only a brief 10 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence in the USA.

The National Park Service has officially designated the Santa Barbara Mission as an historical landmark, and also as a “religious facility.”

The Santa Barbara Mission as It Used to Look in 1917 -- Photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

The Santa Barbara Mission as It Used to Look in 1917 — Photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston.

A Spanish Franciscan, Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuen, a Catholic from the Orders of Friars Minor (OFM,) established the mission in 1786. The Mission has been in use ever since then; it is still in use today.

Originally, the Franciscans founded the Mission with the goal of using it for evangelizing Santa Barbara’s native Chumash people. Nowadays evangelization is still a priority, as evidenced by the St. Barbara’s Parish’s current mission statement. However, evangelization isn’t the sole focus of the Mission staff’s activities. As both an historic landmark and a functioning place of worship, the mission serves several purposes:

  • The mission museum is a popular tourist attraction.
  • A group of Franciscan friars resides at the mission.
  • The mission is the church meeting place of the local Saint Barbara Parish.
  • The grounds are home to a 10-acre historic botanic garden.
  • There are retreat facilities and conference rooms available for private rental.
  • A cemetery and mausoleum comprise tranquil resting places for many of the people who shaped the mission’s history.
  • The mission includes a library and archive, which are popular with genealogical researchers, scholars and historians.
  • A gift shop serves visitors and the local community.
A Catholic Friar in the Garden Court at the Santa Barbara Mission. This Scene Was Photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston in the Spring of 1917.

A Catholic Friar in the Garden Court at the Santa Barbara Mission. This Scene Was Photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston in the Spring of 1917.

Timeline of Significant Dates in the History of the Santa Barbara Mission:

  • 1786 The Santa Barbara Mission was established.
  • Circa 1787 — The first mission church had been constructed by this date. It was an impermanent structure consisting of logs and a thatched grass roof.
  • 1789 First mission church building replaced with another. Mission cemetery was established, and first burial took place.
  • 1794 The mission church building replaced yet again, this time with an adobe and tile structure.
  • 1807 Dam and aqueduct system created.
  • 1808 Fountain and reservoir added; these are still intact today.
  • 1812 An earthquake did significant damage to the adobe church building.
  • 1815 Construction of a new church building began.
  • 1820 Church completed.
  • 1834 The Mission system was discontinued and Missions were secularized by Mexican law.
  • 1840 Pope Gregory XVI appointed Fray Francisco García Diego y Moreno the first bishop of “the Californias”, meaning both Alta California and Baja California.
  • 1842 Bishop Francisco García Diego y Moreno moved to the Santa Barbara Mission.
  • 1846 Bishop Francisco García Diego y Moreno died at the Santa Barbara Mission.
  • 1865 President Abraham Lincoln signed documents that would give all California’s Missions to the Catholic church. (You can see pictures of one of the documents Lincoln signed for the San Juan Capistrano mission; the photos are posted at the Orange County Register website.)
  • 1917 Noted photojournalist Frances Benjamin Johnston visited the Mission and photographed several historic scenes of its then-current architecture and gardens.
  • 1925 The mission church was destroyed in an earthquake.
  • 1927 The Mission’s restoration was completed.
  • 1953 The Mission’s bell towers were reinforced.

If you are interested in discovering a more detailed and comprehensive history, planning a visit to the mission would be ideal. If that isn’t possible, you might find it helpful to visit the links listed under the “reference” section of this article at the bottom of the page.

Santa Barbara Mission Contact Information

  • Telephone Number: 805.682.4713
  • Telephone Number for Scheduling Tours: 805.682.4713 ext 166
  • Retreat Telephone Number: 805.682.4713 ext 133
  • Serra Shop Telephone Number: 805.682.4149
  • Santa Barbara Mission Library-Archive Telephone Number: (805) 682-4713 ext. 152
  • St. Barbara Parish Telephone Number: (805) 682-4151
  • Franciscan Community Telephone Number: (805) 682-4713
  • Address: 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93105
  • Website URL:
  • See Also: The Saint Barbara Parish Website
  • References and External Links

    This page was last updated on 4-21-2019.