Mission History


Throughout its history, Mission Santa Inés has overcome natural disasters, political turmoil, and financial hardships to emerge as one of the most successful of the southern California Missions. The Mission has endured a rebellion, social upheaval, neglect, and decay only to rise again through restoration and repair as one of the hidden gems of the California Mission chain.

In order to acculturate the Chumash of the Santa Ynez valley into the Spanish way of life, and to serve as a link between the Missions of Santa Barbara and La Purisima Concepción in Lompoc, Mission Santa Inés was established in 1804. While still in its formative years, the Mission was devastated by the great earthquake of 1812. The Mission continued to rebuild and repair, and actually became very prosperous during the first part of the 19th century, when the Chumash population was at its highest. The Mission acreage produced plentiful harvests, and its livestock numbered in the thousands. Mission Santa Inés also became linked to one of the early Anglo settlers in California.

After Mexican Independence from Spain in 1821, secularization caused the departure of the Spanish Missionaries, most of the Chumash neophytes, and the decline of the Mission. During this period the first college seminary was temporarily established at Mission Santa Inés in 1844. The Mission would have fallen into complete ruin were it not for the arrival of the Donahue family in 1882 and Fr. Alexander Buckler in 1904. Fr. Buckler began the repair of the Mission building and enlisted the talents of his niece Mamie Goulet to restore the art and vestment collections left at the Mission. The Capuchin Franciscan Friars from Ireland arrived in 1924 after the retirement of Fr. Buckler. They continued the restoration of the Mission buildings, gardens, and established the Mission museum.

Today the friars continue to restore and preserve the "Mission of the Passes" to serve the greater community. Mission Santa Inés is proud and honored to be the guardian of a rich collection of paintings, statuary, vestments, manuscripts, and artifacts.

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Pre-Mission History

Portuguese navigator Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo was credited with the discovery of the Santa Barbara Channel during an exploratory voyage in October 1542. He claimed the land in the name of the Spanish king. Sixty years later Sebastian Viscaino named the channel in honor of Saint Barbara when he sailed in on the eve of the feast of St. Barbara, December 3, 1602.

The first Mission founded by the Franciscan Padre Junipero Serra was San Diego de Alcala in July 1769. Serra along with the Spanish military opened alta or upper California to settlements. The Spanish missionary effort was to educate and convert the Native Americans (Indians) to Spanish culture which included Christianity. The historian Maynard Geiger stated "This was to be a cooperative effort, imperial in origin, protected in purpose but primarily spiritual in execution."

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The Chumash

The Spanish explorers and Missionaries were quite taken with the Chumash of the Santa Barbara Channel region. The peaceful native impressed the explorers with their friendliness, hospitality, creative abilities, and talents. The chaplain of the 1776 Anza Expedition, Father Pedro Font, described the Indians in his writings: "I surmise that these Indians, who are so ingenious and so industrious, would become experts if they had teachers and suitable tools or implements, for they have nothing more than flints, and with them and their steady industry they make artifacts."

The Chumash populated a wide area - from Santa Paula to San Luis Obispo. They had a diversified and interdependent economy based on their many talents and craftsmanship. The Chumash developed an excellent astronomical system, which was on a par with Europe in terms of accuracy. Their small, well organized villages, called rancherias by the Spanish-speaking settlers, were made up of many large huts built from poles of interwoven reeds. The Indians gathered and leached acorns, and they also harvested nuts, seeds, and berries. They were skilled fishermen and enjoyed a variety of sea food. They also hunted animals. Although their only tool was flint, the resourceful Chumash created well-constructed sea-going plank canoes.

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The New Mission: Site Selection

Previous to the founding of Mission Santa Inés, eighteen Missions had been established. Father Junipero Serra, followed by other Missions along the California coast, founded the first, Mission San Diego de Alcala, in 1769. After Father Serra's death in 1784, Fr. Fermin de Lasuen continued the project.

The founding of a Mission between La Purisima and Santa Barbara had been considered by the Missionary Franciscan fathers for several years. An inland Mission, north of Santa Barbara, would solidify their work in the area. They would be able to take advantage of the Chumash Indians' already favorable disposition to being converted to Christianity. In addition, the militant Indian tribe, the Tulares, lived to the northeast, just beyond the region controlled by the Chumash. A Mission in the Santa Ynez Valley would secure the region and create a buffer zone.

After completing the initial coastal chain of Missions to the north, Father Lasuen directed Father Estevan Tápis of Mission Santa Barbara to accompany Captain Felipe de Goycoechea to survey possible Mission sites northeast of the coastal mountains. In the fall of 1798, the expedition surveyed the Calahuasa rancheria (presently the Santa Ynez Indian Reservation) and another Chumash site called Alajlapu (presently Solvang). Father Tápis reported that there were 325 dwellings at 14 sites at Calahuasa and Father Lasuen reported the findings to Governor Diego Borica. In turn, the Spanish viceroy, Iturrigaray approved Calahuasa as a suitable site for a new Mission.

It would be 6 years before the Franciscans could establish their new Mission. The governor died, so approval was then needed from his successor, Jose de Arrillaga, in Baja California. Unfamiliar with the area, Governor Arrillaga wrote to Father Lasuen in April 1803 concerning the number of guards that would be needed for the new Mission. By the time the letter made its way to Santa Barbara, Father Lasuen had died. Father Estevan Tápis was now Presidente of the Missions. He responded to Arrillaga's letter, detailing the number of Indians in the area and the activities of a small group of Indian outlaws who had been committing murders throughout the region. In September, the Father Guardian of the Franciscan order came from Mexico to survey the site and determined that a guard of 6 men would be sufficient to protect the Mission.

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In 1804 a row of buildings was constructed, measuring 232 feet in length and 19 feet in both height and width. This wing contained the temporary church (about 86 feet long), a sacristy (14 feet long), the padres' quarters (approximately 29 feet long), and the granary (103 feet long). With the aid of an initial group of Chumash neophytes from Missions Santa Barbara and La Purisima Concepción, this portion was constructed six months prior to the formal founding of Mission Santa Inés. The 30-inch thick walls were made of adobe (regional soil that contained much clay). The roof consisted of poles over which sticks were laid side by side, and then covered with a layer of adobe soil that hardened, thus sealing out the weather. On September 17, 1804, Father Tápis officially dedicated the Mission to Saint Agnes. The temporary brushwood shelter was constructed at which 200 Indians attended solemn High Mass. Twenty-seven children were baptized and 15 men enlisted for instruction in the Catholic religion. Fathers José Romualdo Gutierrez and José Antonio Calzada were selected as the first resident priests. By the end of 1804 the Baptismal register already contained the names of 112 Chumash converts of all ages.

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Early History: 1804 to 1850

The cemetery is located behind the Mission bell-tower. The first entry in the burial register is dated January 23, 1805.
The building at the Mission continued from 1804 to 1810. At the end of 1805, Fathers Calzada and Gutierrez reported that another row of buildings similar to the first row constructed before the Mission dedication was constructed. It was 145 feet in length and 19 feet high and wide. In an 1806 report, Fathers Gutierrez and deTaboada stated another row was constructed. This building was 368 feet in length with a corridor covered with tiles to protect the adobe walls from rain. This last building completed the square design which was the typical design for California Missions. Each side of the square measured 350 feet. Within the quadrangle a blacksmith, potters shops, facilities for weaving and basket making, a soap factory and other work areas were built.

New buildings were constructed in 1807 and in 1810 five double houses were built for the soldiers and their families, plus a storehouse and the guardhouse.

In 1812, the population of Chumash at the Mission reaches 718, the highest number throughout the Mission Era. These Chumash included those from Mission Santa Barbara and La Purisima Concepción, who had come to the new Mission to help train the local population.

Changes in the political air soon had their effect on Mission life. After the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence against Spain in 1810, financial support to the missions ceased. The Missions were required to become self-sustaining. Because the soldiers were no longer receiving their salaries and the annual ship from San Blas carrying provisions for the soldiers and their families was also cancelled, the officers at the Presidio made greater demands on the Missions to supply food and clothing to the soldiers and their families. In return, the Missions received IOU receipts.

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The Earthquake of 1812

Eight years of growth and building were damaged or destroyed in just fifteen minutes at the end of 1812. Fathers Uria and Olbés reported the following: "December 21, 1812, at about 10 o'clock in the morning, two earthquakes occurred at an interval of a quarter of an hour. The first made a considerable aperture in the one corner of the church: the second shock threw down the said corner, and a quarter of the new houses fell down, demolished all the tiles, and opened a main wall. All remain serviceable, however, if no greater tremors occur."

For safety, a temporary church was erected outside the quadrangle area. Reconstruction of the damaged buildings continued over the next few years. A new and larger church was built of adobe and brick and facing east. It measured 140 feet long, 25 feet wide and 30 feet high, with heavily buttressed walls 5 feet thick. Heavy pine timbers brought from the San Rafael Mountains supported its ceiling and re-tiled roof. The ceiling height was lowered on the residence of the friars, and the flat roof was replaced with a gabled roof covered with tiles. A new belfry was constructed at this time. These buildings, which were dedicated on July 4 1817, still remain today.

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Rebuilding: Progress and Productivity

The lavenderia (laundry), where Indian women washed their clothes, is preserved today on the Mission grounds.
During this period of political change, building at the Mission continued. Between 1818 and 1820, the interior of the church was decorated with the 14 paintings of the "Way of the Cross"; in 1820, a gristmill was erected of masonry for grinding corn and wheat, and reservoirs were installed. In 1821, a fulling mill for cleansing wool cloth woven at the Mission was constructed of burnt brick and in 1823, a building for storing all kinds of equipment needed by the vaqueros (cow-herders) was erected.

The Mission attempted to increase its income by selling the hides and tallow from cattle for basic domestic materials and money to pay the Chumash for their labor. This trade was considered illegal by the Spanish government in Mexico which restricted trade to only approved Spanish traders.

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Joseph Chapman and the Pirates

Mission Santa Inés is closely linked to the adventurous life of Joseph Chapman, one of the earliest American settlers in California.

Alleged to originally have come from Boston, Massachusetts, Chapman sailed to Hawaii where he became an unwilling crew member aboard a ship captained by the Argentine privateer Hippolyte de Bouchard. Bouchard raided the Spanish settlements along the California coast as far north as Monterey. In 1818, Chapman was captured during a raid of the Ortega Ranch in Refugio Canyon. The Bostonian told a story of being captured and forced into labor aboard the ship. In an interview with Fr. Uria, Chapman claimed to know how to build a fulling mill. In 1820, Chapman was paroled to the supervision of Fr. Uria at Mission Santa Inés.

The fulling mill was built in 1821 about 1 mile from the Mission quadrangle next to the grinding mill.

In June 1822 Chapman was baptized Juan José Chapman at Mission San Buenaventura in Ventura, and in November he married Maria Guadalupe Ortega. The couple moved to Los Angeles where Chapman planted vineyards. Later he built the first ship in southern California. He retired to his land grant - Rancho San Pedro. He is buried in Mission Santa Barbara cemetery.

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Chumash Revolt

Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. From 1810, during the Mexican war for independence the Missions had been denied the annual income for their support. This financial support came from the Pious Fund that was established by the Spanish monarchy but had been confiscated by the military government in Mexico. Between 1821 and 1824, the soldiers were not receiving their pay or their annual material support from Mexico. The Presidios began to pressure the Missions to increase the goods and Chumash labor supplied to the military. Payment was given in IOUs.

This was situation when a La Purisima Chumash visited Mission Santa Inés. During a verbal confrontation with a sergeant at the Mission, the Chumash was seized and whipped. The mounting frustration of both the Chumash and the soldiers reached its peak with the whipping and the revolt of 1824 began.

At Mission Santa Inés the revolt lasted less than a week. Chumash from La Purisima joined with the Mission Chumash and fired upon the soldiers with bows and arrows. The soldiers set fire to the Chumash homes and when the Church caught fire, the Chumash stopped the assault. None of the Mission friars were ever in danger because the Chumash respected and had a great affection for them. The revolt was against the soldiers. The next day some soldiers from the Presidio in Santa Barbara arrived to assist the Mission soldiers.

Father Uria was taken by the soldiers to Mission Santa Barbara and later he was reassigned to Mission San Luis Obispo. Mission La Purisima was not restored and the most of the Chumash left.

The revolt continued at Mission Santa Barbara, long after the conflict at Mission Santa Inés ended.

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The Mexican Assembly passed the Secularization Laws in 1834. This legislation brought the Mission system to its end. The new laws confiscated the Mission lands, its produce and animals and placed them under the administration of local Mexican ranch owners. The mission priests were allowed a small parcel of land for their use and to administer to the spiritual needs of the remaining neophytes. Additionally, all priests were required to take an oath of allegiance to the Mexican government. Those who remained loyal to Spain were deported to Spain. The Spanish Franciscans were replaced by Mexican Franciscans. The Mission churches became parish churches administering to the spiritual needs of the growing settler population.

Growing enmity between the new administrators and the Chumash resulted in most of the Chumash leaving the Mission and the final decline of the Missions.

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California's First Seminary and Primary School

Governor Manuel Micheltorena arrived at San Diego from Mexico in August 1842 with the directive to return the Missions to the management of the Franciscans.

The first Bishop of Alta California Francisco Garcia Diego, OFM, directed Frs. José Jimeno and Juan Moreno to contact Micheltorena for permission to build a seminary in the remains of the quadrangle of Mission Santa Inés. Micheltorena not only gave permission, he also donated 35,000 acres and established an annual annuity of $500 for its maintenance.

In the Seminary's constitution, there is a provision for the education of the young men of the landowners. The wealthy landowners would pay tuition and enough money was set aside for the less fortunate. In 1844 the College of Our Lady de Refugio was erected.

Micheltorena's rule ended abruptly in 1845 when the local landowners who had been evicted successfully lobbied the governor in Monterey, Pio Pico for the return of the Mission lands. Pico then illegally rented them out. The seminary for Franciscans was relocated 1.5 miles east of the Mission in 1846 and there it continued until 1850. In 1852, under the direction of Rt. Rev. José Sadoc Alemany, O.P., Bishop of Monterey, the seminary was re-commissioned to serve as a diocesan college and seminary and re-named Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was also known as College Ranch and provided education for the sons of local ranchers.

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A New Era: 1851 to the 1904

In 1851 the United States government rescinded the illegal sale of the Mission lands by Pio Pico. Several priest from different religious orders and diocesan priest administered the college seminary. At the Mission, Father Eugene O'Connell made improvements of the Mission buildings including laying the first asphalt floors.

A decree signed by President Abraham Lincoln on May 24, 1862 formally returned the Missions to the Catholic Church with possession given to the Bishop of Monterey.

This photo of ruins at Mission Santa Inés
may date from as early as 1865.

Supervision of the college seminary was transferred to the Christian Brothers from 1877-1881. The institution was closed and the Bishop sold off 20,000 acres. Some of the area became the town of Santa Ynez.

The Donohue family who resided in Gilroy, CA was invited by Fr. Michael Lynch to live and work at the Mission in 1884. Fr. Lynch resided at the college but was directed to move into the Mission with Frs. Farrelly and Lack, and supervise repairs. Mr. Donohue a carpenter, stone mason and blacksmith is credited with making the first improvements to the Mission buildings since the end of the Mission Era. Often financing the repairs, Mr. Donohue and his 4 sons improved the walls and floors, and built a large sala or living room for the priests. In 1898, the Donohue family moved from the Mission to their ranch located about ¼ mile from the Mission.

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Father Alexander Buckler

Father Alexander Buckler
Father Alexander Buckler
The first serious commitment to the restoration of the Mission came with the assignment of a diocesan priest, Fr. Alexander Buckler, in 1904. Bishop Thomas J. Conaty directed Fr. Buckler to improve the Mission and send the invoices to his office. Fr. Buckler began by addressing the basic needs - better shelter, efficient water and drainage, and restoring the crumbling church. As the job proved daunting, Fr. Buckler invited his niece, Mamie Goulet, to live at the Mission and help in the restoration of priceless art, artifacts and vestments. For heavy labor, Fr. Buckler began what became known as the Hobo Hotel. During the time before WWI, many young American and European men had come to California to make their fortune. Failing that, they wandered the unpaved roads and traveled on the railroads trying to survive. Fr. Buckler rehabilitated the remains of the old seminary in the garden into a few rooms and for their labor, provided the hobos with food, shelter and a blanket. The system worked. Roofs were retiled, the reservoir system improved, the church interior restored. In 1911 after a heavy rain the bell tower fell. With the help of the residents of the new town of Solvang, the bell tower was re-built. Mamie Goulet served as housekeeper, nurse, carpenter, parish hostess, and painter. Additionally, she restored the vestments found lying in an old shelter and tried to restore many of the paintings. Fr. Buckler retired to Santa Barbara in 1924. Together with his niece they moved to their house, named "Casita Santa Inés" and became parishioners of Our Lady of Sorrows church. He died in 1930, and was buried in a robe made from the remains of the repaired vestments that had been dyed black. The Mission was offered to the Franciscans but was declined by the Franciscan Father Superior. The offer was extended to the Capuchin Franciscan Order of the Irish Province and was accepted.

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The Capuchin Franciscans

Upon arriving at Mission Santa Inés in 1924, the Capuchin Franciscans installed electricity and modern plumbing to improve the living conditions. The inner garden was given a formal appearance in 1926 with the planting of a hedge in the shape of a Celtic cross and installation of a fountain.

The expansive garden behind the Mission is a lovely surprise for many visitors. Dating to the Mission's earliest days, the garden has undergone many changes; it currently retains the formal design of a hedge in the shape of a Celtic cross implemented by the Capuchin Franciscans in 1926.

Fathers Kelleher and O'Leary examine adobe
walls during renovation work in 1949.

Full restoration of the Mission began in 1947. When the workman removed the roof from part of the residence, they discovered the outline of several rooms above the arches that had been used by during the Mission Era. The second story was added making the Mission look as it did before the earthquake of 1812. Extensive repairs were made to the roof of the church and residence, and sections of the south end of the building were completely remodeled.

Additionally, the bell tower was remodeled to conform to its original design as confirmed by artwork and photographs prior to its collapse in 1911. Red tile flooring unearthed during the project affirmed that the Mission edifice originally has 22 arches not 21 as previously believed. A Mission bell was shipped from Rotterdam (the Netherlands) for recasting and returned in time to ring out in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mission Santa Inés in 1954.

The Chapel of the Madonna was created during this period and numerous restoration projects were initiated. A radiation heating system was installed in the church under the original restored tile floor to preserve the Mission's priceless paintings and other artwork. The entire Mission was painted and weatherproofed. Improved irrigation and drainage systems were installed for the various refurbished and landscaped gardens. In 1954 a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes made in Obergammergau (Bavaria, Germany) was installed in a shrine next to the cemetery.

original 19th arch
The restored arched colonnade
with ruin of the original 19th arch.
Two new bronze bells named "Santa Inés" and "Saint Frances" were cast and installed in the bell tower in 1984. In August of 1989 the 18th annual Fiesta celebrated many years of hard work - in particular the million-dollar renovation and restoration project of the east wing. Key to this project was the reconstruction of eight of the 19 arches that form the eastern façade of the building. This restoration recreated the appearance and almost the original length of the east wing or convento prior to the Secularization in 1834. All that remained was the 19th of the 22 arches. It was decided to keep this original arch standing both as a reminder of the original building as well as of the neglect and abuse that the missions suffered under secularization. The new portion of the convento building now houses a large parish hall complete with kitchen and two conference rooms. All are used by the parish as well as area groups for meetings. Inside the hall are several large paintings done by local artists depicting the various eras of mission life as well as the present life of the parish. Restoration efforts of the Mission paintings became the focus in 1992 and are ongoing.

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A Living Tradition

This is Mission Santa Inés as it stood after the 1812 earthquake:

Historic Mission Santa Inés
Old door handle
Many early-era architectural details,
such as this beautiful door handle,
can be appreciated at today's Mission.

Restoration of Mission Santa Inés is an ongoing project. We are grateful to all the visitors whose donations continue to allow the project to continue. Mission Santa Inés receives no State or Federal funds.

Community groups are allowed limited use of Mission facilities for public functions. Wedding, baptism, birthday, or Quinceañera receptions are NOT allowed. The Mission grounds serve as the staging area for the annual Rancheros Visitadores, parades, and cycling events. The popular annual Fiesta benefits the restoration work at the historic Mission.

Mission Santa Inés continues as an active parish church of approximately 1300 families. It holds regular religious services in both English and Spanish. The Mission staff conducts religious education and baptism classes for parents and godparents, youth groups, and various programs for adults.

Visitors are always welcome to the museum and gift shop. There is an audio tour of the museum and docents who provide tours of the museum and the mission grounds.

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