The tranquil beauty of the Santa Ines Mission today gives no hint of the turbulent currents of history that have swept it for two hundred years. Named after Saint Agnes, a 13 year old girl martyred in 304 AD, the stately edifice has survived natural, political and financial disasters that have repeatedly threatened its existence. Friar Zephyrin Engelhardt detailed its history in the book “Mission Santa Ines,” published in 1932. Following are some highlights of the last 200 years.
Founded by Franciscan Friar Estevan Tapis in 1804 to minister to approximately one thousand Native Americans, the adobe structure sat on a nearly treeless bluff, as arid in summer as a lunar landscape. An aqueduct solved the water problem, but the ambitious improvements begun by the padres by the padres suffered a major setback from the 1812 earthquake. Eighty adobe dwellings had just been completed when the tremor came. On December 21, 1812, at 10 am, two earthquakes at 15 minute intervals made “a considerable aperture in one corner of the church“ and “threw down the said corner, and a quarter of the new houses contiguous to the church collapsed to the foundation.” The permanent replacement structure was not completed until Friday, July 4, 1817.
By 1824, 564 Indian men, women and children worked at the mission. In February of that year, simmering anger fed by years of abuse from the soldiers they were forced to maintain was unleashed when one Corporal Cota ordered the flogging of a neophyte from Mission La Purisima. On the afternoon of Saturday, February 21, a number of Indians armed with bows and arrows attacked the soldiers, who retreated to buildings at the rear of the church and returned fire. Two neophytes from La Purisima were killed.
The attackers then torched the building in which the soldiers were hiding. When the fire spread to the roof of the vestry in the rear of the church, however, the rebels did all they could to prevent the church from burning down.
From the Mission log: “All the workshops, the soldier's barracks and the habitations of the guards were destroyed.” Reinforcements from Santa Barbara rescued the besieged soldiers and put down the remnants of the rebellion the following day. Friar Baldomero Lopez wrote “the revolt was not against the missionaries; on the contrary, the revolting Indians wanted to have the Fathers go along with them, and told them they would care for them. The revolt came about because they were made to work in order to maintain the troops, and nothing was given them in payment...”
In 1834, the Mexican territorial government confiscated all the missions. On June 15, 1846, just days before the end of Mexican rule, Governor Pio Pico sold Santa Ines to his niece's husband for $7,000. It literally took an act of Congress to get it back. The final declaration was signed by Abraham Lincoln himself, on May 23, 1862.
Around 1870, as Father Juan Basso celebrated Holy Mass, the pulpit, which was mounted some six feet high on the wall, fell to the floor of the church with a resounding crash. The priest was not injured, and completed the service. The pulpit was not replaced.
Ballard pioneer Grace Lyons Davison saw an abandoned structure on her first day here, in 1882. “It was unoccupied at the time, and had the air of being deserted. The wagon road ran directly through the fallen arches, and in front of the venerable structure,” she wrote.
Shortly thereafter, the Donahue family moved in, invited by Father Michael Lynch. Donahue, a carpenter, stonemason and blacksmith, lived at the Mission with his wife and five daughters from 1882 to 1898. He advertised his services over the ninth archway.
Father Alexander Buckler ended the long decline in February, 1904. Buckler “encountered solitude, ruin, and abomination of desolation everywhere. A disagreeable old Methodist couple occupies a portion of the house and it is very difficult to induce them to move out ... Dirt and neglect stare at me all around.”
He recruited his niece, Miss Mary Laura Goulet, age 23, from Minnesota to aid him. She wrote “Vandals must have entered the buildings when no one was around, and then played havoc...no one who visits the Mission today for the first time can conceive of the apalling condition it was in at that time...We found the beautiful old oil painting of St. Francis in the old tank house under the water tank…” Snakes sunbathed in the halls, slept in the sink, hung from the gutters, and inhabited the walls.
In 1911, heavy rains damaged the mission so badly that the Santa Barbara Daily Press’ March 9 headline read “NO CHANCE TO SAVE SANTA INES MISSION.” The bell tower and three of the massive buttresses on the cemetery side of the church had collapsed into a pile of adobe mud. T. W. Moore of Santa Barbara mourned the presumed passing, writing “The century-old monument lies in a heap and her bells are buried in the ruins.”
Bishop Thomas J. Conaty of Los Angeles found funds for repair. Father Buckler and Miss Goulet stayed on at the Mission until 1924.
“Always Move Forward” was the motto of Miguel Jose Junipero Serra. Funds for improvement and restoration are always welcome. Donations should be addressed to Old Mission Santa Ines, Box 1184, Solvang, California, 93464.
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