Sometimes a name is just a name, but other times it’s a predestination. Through the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish ships traversed the California coast casting Spanish names on the land and its features. Santa Barbara was given its name by a grateful explorer after a torrential storm nearly killed him on the eve of Saint Barbara’s Catholic feast day.
Nearly two centuries later, Spanish Franciscans were building the now famous California Missions along the coast – this one \was named in honor of Santa Barbara herself. Through the ages, several chapels would be built here, each larger than the former.
This last chapel to be constructed here was unique amongst the California Missions. It was built out of stone and modeled after a pre-Christian Roman temple with not one, but two bell towers. Thanks to its beauty and location, it was dubbed the “Queen of the Missions.”
Though founded by the Spanish, the Old Mission has fallen under the rule of Spain, then Mexico, and finally America. Out of fear that Spain was still exerting influence over local populations, under Mexican rule the missions were forced to secularize. But unlike the other California missions, Santa Barbara remained a Catholic Church and is the only one to be continually run by the Franciscan Friars since its establishment.
In nearly 250 years, the Old Mission has technically been part of three different countries, survived multiple earthquakes, secularization and restoration and its name may have been a lesson in foreshadowing. In Catholic tradition, as a young girl Saint Barbara went against her father’s wishes when she converted to Christianity – through hardship and torture at her father’s hands, she remained committed to her faith. She is now considered the patron saint of architects, those who experience danger, and is invoked against thunder and lightning.
Written by: Chris Gilson