Mission Santa Barbara, also known as Santa Barbara Mission, is a Spanish Franciscan mission near present day Santa Barbara, California. It was founded December 4, 1786, the feast day of Saint Barbara, for the religious conversion of the indigenous local Chumash—Barbareño tribe of Native American people. The Mission grounds occupy a rise between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, and were consecrated by Father Fermín Lasuén, who had taken over the presidency of the California mission chain upon the death of Father Presidénte Junípero Serra. Mission Santa Barbara is the only mission to remain under the leadership of the Franciscan Friars since the day of its founding.
Mission Santa Barbara's name comes from the legend of Saint Barbara, a girl who was supposedly beheaded by her father for following the Christian Faith. The early missionaries built three different chapels during the first few years, each larger than the previous one. It was only after the great Santa Barbara Earthquake on December 21, 1812, which destroyed the existing buildings, that the construction on the current Mission was begun. It was completed and then dedicated in 1820. The towers were considerably damaged in the June 29, 1925 earthquake, but were subsequently rebuilt in 1927. The appearance of the inside of the church has not been altered significantly since 1820.
Many elements of the Mission's extensive water treatment system, all built by Chumash Indians' labor (including aqueducts, two reservoirs, and a filter house) remain to this day, as does a grain mill; the larger reservoir, which was built in 1806 by the expedient of damming a canyon, has been incorporated into the City's water system. The original fountain and lavadero are also intact near the entrance to the Mission. A dam constructed in 1807 is situated in the current Santa Barbara Botanic Garden up "Mission Canyon." The Mission's tanning vats, pottery kiln, and guard house are all in ruins to this day.
In 1818, two Argentine ships under the command of the French privateer Hipólito Bouchard approached the coast and threatened the young town of Santa Barbara. The padres armed and trained 150 of the neophytes to prepare for attack. With their help, the Presidio soldiers confronted Bouchard, who sailed out of the harbor without attacking.
After the Mexican Congress passed An Act for the Secularization of the Missions of California on August 17, 1833 Father Presidente Narciso Durán transferred the missions' headquarters to Santa Barbara, thereby making Mission Santa Barbara the repository of some 3,000 original documents that had been scattered through the California missions. The Mission archive is the oldest library in the State of California that still remains in the hands of its founders, the Franciscans. Beginning with the writings of Hubert Howe Bancroft, the library has served as a center for historical study of the missions for more than a century.