This month marks the 215th year anniversary of the Old Mission Santa Inés, established in September of 1804. The mission was officially named Mission Santa Inés, Virgen Y Martir (Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr) after the patron saint Agnes of Rome (c. 291 – c. 304), who was an early Christian martyr that refused to marry the son of a non-Christian Roman official.
Because of her refusal to marry his son, the official condemned her to death. The name Agnes when translated from Latin to Spanish is Inez.
The Santa Inés mission was the 19th of the 21 California missions built, and was the last of five missions established in the Chumash homeland, which stretched from present-day Malibu to Morro Bay. The other Chumash missions are located in San Luis Obispo (1772), Ventura (1782), Santa Barbara (1786), and Lompoc (1787).
The Santa Inés Mission was founded for many reasons.
A mission between the Missions Santa Barbara and La Purisima in Lompoc could provide a place to rest and refresh for travelers. The mission system was designed to have each mission be approximately one day’s journey from one to the next.
Secondly, an inland mission north of Santa Barbara would be able to serve the goal of bringing Christianity to the large number of inland Chumash living in the area.
Thirdly, a very militant Indian tribe, the Tulares, lived to the northeast, just beyond the region controlled by the Chumash. A mission in what is now the Santa Ynez Valley would secure the region and act as a buffer zone.
With the help of Chumash converts from Mission Santa Barbara and La Purisima Concepcion, the first row of buildings were constructed with 30-inch-thick walls made of adobe.
Mission Santa Inés grew quickly, drawing upon the support, tradition and experience of the older, established missions. By 1810, only five years after its founding, the mission was a quadrangle of about 350 feet on each side with a large courtyard in the middle—the typical design of California missions.
However, two factors would soon change the mission design and lifestyle.
The first was the Mexican War of Independence from Spain in 1810 which made the financial support of Spain no longer available, forcing the missions to take on the role of supplying food and clothing to the soldiers rather than their original role of teaching and converting the Indians.
The second factor was the earthquake of 1812, which in just 15 minutes damaged or destroyed seven years of progress.
Over the next four years, reconstruction of the damaged buildings continued, adding a new, larger church facing east that was built of adobe and brick. Heavy, buttressed walls five feet thick fortified the new church. Heavy pine timbers from the San Rafael Mountains were brought in to support the ceiling and re-tiled roof.
The new building was dedicated on July 4, 1817 and is all that remains from that era.
In 1821 after Mexico won its independence from Spain, Spanish presidios (military bases) pressed the missions for more supplies, pressing the Chumash to work longer hours and be more productive without additional pay for their extra labor. The Franciscans also increased their efforts to suppress Chumash culture leading to even more resentment toward the missionaries and soldiers.
It was in this environment of economic stress, social change and ethnic conflict that the winds of rebellion began. The Chumash of Santa Barbara, Santa Inés and La Purisima Missions were communicating and talking about rebellion.
On Feb. 21, 1824, a young Chumash boy from Mission La Purisma was severely beaten by a Mexican soldier while visiting a relative imprisoned inside the Mission Santa Inés guardhouse.
A revolt spread to the Santa Barbara and La Purisma Missions, and those missions were taken over by the Chumash. However, the Chumash were no match for the heavily armed Mexican soldiers and eventually a truce was declared, and all three missions went back under Mexican control.
After much negotiation, most the Chumash that had fled to the hills returned to the three missions. Celebrations were held to mark the peace. However, the relationship was never the same.
In 1834 Mexico passed secularization laws that allowed the missions to pass into private hands. Most mission property quickly found its way into the hands of rich friends of government officials—and in some cases the government officials themselves.
This was devastating for the Chumash, leaving them with no land and no way to earn a living.
In 1851 the United States government took control of California and rescinded the illegal sale of the mission lands by Gov. Pio Pico, and returned them to the Catholic Church.
The church sold off 20,000 acres, reducing the mission to less than half its size, with 16,000 acres remaining.
In 1904 after the Donahue family from Ireland came to live at the Mission for 16 years, working to repair and maintain the Mission, Father Alexander Buckler became pastor and began to maintain and restore the Mission. When Father Buckler retired the Capuchin Franciscan Order of the Irish Province took over.
The Capuchins began full restoration of the Mission in 1947. A Mission bell was shipped to Rotterdam for recasting, returning in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Mission in 1954.
The restoration of the Mission continues to this day and remains as one of the best-preserved missions in California.
If you have not toured this historical gem, I encourage you to do so. It has beautiful original artwork and statues, its gardens are beautiful and the restoration work done is impressive. Tours are available daily.
For more information, visit https://missionsantaines.org/.