Mission San Buenaventura


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San Buenaventura

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Ninth Mission
Date Founded: Easter Sunday, March 31, 1782
Founder: Father Junipero Serra
Named for: St. Bonaventure, Franciscan Mystic and Doctor of the Church
San Buenaventura Mission
211 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001-2622

Contact Information:
(805) 643-4318 telephone
(805) 643-7831 facsimile


The mission is at 225 E. Main Street in Ventura. Southbound on U.S. 101 take the Main Street exit just before entering Ventura (keep to the right along the coast and you can't miss it). Northbound on 101 exit at California Street, go North a couple of blocks to Main Street, then left on Main to the mission (California Landmark 310).



According to plans made at Loreto before the first expedition started for Alta California, it was felt that a third mission would be needed half way between San Diego and Monterey. It was the intention to establish this station at San Buenaventura. Once in California, however, circumstances intervened and it was 1782 before the opportunity for actually founding this mission occurred. In March of that year, a conference of some importance took place at Mission San Gabriel. Present were Father Serra, three of his Franciscans, Governor Felipe de Neve, and the ex-sergeant, Josť Ortega, now a lieutenant after Father Serra's unsuccessful campaign to have him appointed governor of California.

The meeting between Fr. Serra and de Neve was of utmost importance to the missionaries, for the governor had been in the territory almost five years and now, for the first time since his arrival, had agreed to discuss the establishment of a new mission. Fr. Serra had received word that six new Franciscan padres were being sent from the College in Mexico City but there were other difficulties to be solved.

From the point of view of the royal authorities in Mexico, new missions in the California style were expensive. The first missions had been supplied in part with goods taken from the Jesuit missions of Lower California; now each new mission had to be supplied with materials purchased and shipped from Mexico City. European wars were draining the Spanish treasury and all available funds were being sent to the mother country. California, other than for its strategic position, meant little to the Spanish crown and offered nothing in the way of material profit. From the King's standpoint, mission expenditures were unnecessary.

The Franciscans took the position that the money spent was taken from the Pious Fund, a fund collected privately by their predecessors, the Jesuits, solely for the purpose of maintaining the missions of Baja and, by extension, Alta California. Such an attitude received little sympathy from the Crown and its viceroy, for, by the Patronado which Pope Alexander VI issued in 1493, the King was given a free hand, based on law, over certain temporalities and appointments in administering the Church in the New World. Therefore, he argued that the Pious Fund was to be administered at his discretion. For the moment, the King did not desire to spend additional money in California.

This position of the Crown led it to support the civil point of view. If California could be colonized by merely distributing land to the newly arrived settlers, it meant a much less expensive way of protecting the area from foreign encroachment. As the governors had long been arguing, a small white population was of far greater value to the Crown than any number of the unpredictable Indians.

The Yuma uprising also furthered Spanish distrust of the Indians and the policy was embodied in a code of authority by Viceroy Bucareli. From this code, de Neve fashioned new regulations which ordered that all future missions be set up in the Arizona style favored by Commandante de Croix. This meant, of course, no mission industries founded on Indian labor and also only one father to a mission.

The meeting at Mission San Gabriel must have been a difficult one for both Father Serra and the Governor. The new regulations had been published and Fr. Serra was aware of de Neve's part in forming them, yet his College of San Fernando was still doing a valiant battle against their actual enforcement. Fr. Serra and de Neve agreed on the establishment of two new missions, however, one at the site designated for Santa Barbara and one at San Buenaventura. De Neve planned to accompany the settlers, for he was interested in Santa Barbara, which also was to have a presidio. After the party was one day out, a courier arrived with orders from de Croix, bidding de Neve to meet with Pedro Fages who was coming from Sonora to campaign against the rebellious Yuma Indians.

Establishment of Mission San Buenaventura

Mission San Buenaventura was founded by Father Serra on Easter Sunday, March 31, 1782. The site had been discovered and claimed for Spain by the great navigator, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, almost 50 years to the day after the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Western Hemisphere.

In de Neve's absence, Fr. Serra chose to ignore the possibility of conflict with him and proceeded to build Mission San Buenaventura according to the original plan. When de Neve arrived some time later, everything was running smoothly and the friendly Indians of the area had joined in the many phases of mission life, though none had become neophytes. While de Neve said nothing about the establishment of the mission in defiance of the new code, the incident resulted in a delay of the establishment of the next mission at Santa Barbara.

The founding of San Buenaventura Mission was foreshadowed well over two centuries ago on the Spanish isle of Mallorca, when a devout Franciscan priest, who was a brilliant scholar and professor of theology, earnestly prayed that he might be permitted to forsake his comfortable circumstances to take up the Lordís work among the aborigines in the New World. The hoped-for answer to his prayers came on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1749.

Thirty-three years and one day later the zealous priest, Fray Junipero Serra- who had been subjected to painful sufferings and several brushes with death during his missionary ministry Ė raised the Cross at "la playa de la canal de Santa Barbara" (the beach of the Santa Barbara Channel) on Easter Morning, March 31, 1782. Assisted by Padre Pedro Benito Cambon, he celebrated a High Mass, preached on the Resurrection, and dedicated a Mission to San Buenaventura (St. Bonaventure). It had been planned as the third in the chain of twenty-one Missions founded by Padre Serra but was destined to be the ninth and last founded during his lifetime, and one of six he personally dedicated.

Mission Life

Under the direction of Padre Cambon, whom Padre Serra left in charge of the new Mission, a seven-mile-long aqueduct was constructed to bring Ventura River water to the Mission. With plentiful water the Mission was able to maintain flourishing orchards and gardens, which were described by English navigator George Vancouver as the finest he had seen.

The Missionís first church building, according to Vancouver, was destroyed by fire. The construction of a second church was abandoned because "the door gave way." In 1792 work was in progress on the present church and the small utility buildings which (with the church) formed a quadrangle enclosing a plaza. Although half finished in 1795, the church was not completed until 1809. Dedication was held September 9 of that year and the first liturgical services took place September 10. At about that time the San Miguel Chapel (present corner of Thompson Boulevard and Palm Street) and the Santa Gertrudis Chapel (Highway 33 near Foster Park) were completed.

A series of earthquakes and an accompanying tidal wave in 1812 forced the padres and Indian neophytes to seek temporary shelter a few miles inland. Six years later the padres and their flock had to remove sacred objects from the church and flee into the hills to elude a pirate who was pillaging the Missions but fortunately was headed off after a "bargaining session" at El Refugio in Santa Barbara.

From the first, Ventura grew with extraordinary vigor. The Indians of the area, which the Spanish named the Channel Indians, were exceptionally able and energetic. By 1809, Ventura possessed a great stone and masonry church. A reservoir and aqueduct system seven miles in length was built to supply water to the grain fields which extended to the very edge of the Pacific Ocean. The account of its prosperity left by the English sea captain George Vancouver, who visited the mission in 1793, credited it with an astounding variety of agricultural products. The mission was as fortunate in its padres as in its Indians for among them was Father Josť Senan, who afterwards served as presidente of the missions.

An earthquake in 1812 damaged the stone face of the mission church and reconstruction work required nearly three years. The mission suffered no disturbance after that until 1818, when it was abandoned for approximately a month because of the violence visited upon the area by Bouchard, the French pirate. In May, 1819, attempts on the part of the mission guard to prevent a party of 22 Mojave Indians from fraternizing with the mission neophytes led to an outbreak which resulted in the death of ten of the Mojaves and two soldiers. The remaining Mojaves escaped and though Ventura was spared any direct retaliation, the Mojaves became bitter and costly enemies of Spain.

The friendly Chumash Indians were happy to live at the mission. They were so friendly that the mission was founded right in their village. The Chumash were expert boat builders which was helpful as the mission sits on the coast with a view of the ocean. By 1816, the mission had 1,328 Indians living in its' compound. They had made cone shaped homes of tule grass. The women were known for their basket making.

The economy of the missions were similar to each other in that they planted crops of wheat and corn. They also planted vineyards, and raised cattle and sheep. The agriculture was needed not only to maintain the mission community and the nearby Indians, but was used for trade and served to visitors to the mission. The Indians at Mission San Buenaventura built a 7 mile aqueduct to bring water to the mission from the mountains. This irrigation helped the crops to grow. The results of this made the mission famous for its' exotic fruits, herbs, vegetables, bananas, sugar cane, figs and coconuts. The mission also had many livestock grazing on their lands.

There was a complete quadrangle during the mission years. the church was on the southwest corner and a cemetery was on the west side on the church. A grade school now stands where the old cemetery was. In 1818, the pirate Bouchard, was seen of off the coast of California. He had been terrorising the entire coast. The padres and Indians buried some of their valuables and took the rest to the mountains for a month until the pirate had gone.


The Mexican government in 1834 issued a secularization decree divesting the padres of administrative control over the Missions. In 1845 San Buenaventura Mission was rented to Don Jose Arnaz and Narciso Botello and was later illegally sold to Arnaz. After California became a state of the Union, Bishop Joseph Sadoc Alemany petitioned the United States Government to return that part of the Mission holdings comprising the church, clergy residence, cemetery, orchard, and vineyard to the Catholic Church. The request was granted in the form of a Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln on May 23, 1862.

By 1836, the mission was caught in the vortex of the social disruption that followed the Mexican revolt. In March of that year, it was the scene of a battle between supporters of the two leading aspirants for the "governorship" of the province and long thereafter its walls bore the scars of this conflict. Secularization, which officially took place in June of 1836, resulted in a more gentle transition than that which occurred at the other missions. The basic reason was that Rafael Gonzales, the first administrator, proved to be honest and efficient. By the middle of 1845, however, its lands had been completely broken up and sold, and the church and a small part of its possessions were not returned until 1862.

Decline and Rebirth

Because of severe earthquake damage in 1857 the Missionís tile roof was replaced by a shingle roof. Some years later, in an effort to "modernize" the church, the windows were lengthened, the beamed ceiling and tile floor were covered, and the remnants of the quadrangle were razed. The west sacristy was removed to provide room for a school, which was not actually built until 1921. During the pastorate of Father Patrick Grogan the roof of the church was once again tiled, the convent and present rectory were built, and a new fountain was placed in the garden.

In a major restoration under the supervision of Father Aubrey J. OíReilly in 1956-1957, the windows were reconstructed to their original size, and the ceiling and floor were uncovered.

A long-time parishioner commissioned the casting of a bell with an automatic angelus device and donated it to the Mission; it hangs in the belltower above the four ancient hand-operated bells.

The entire roof of the church was removed and replaced in 1976. In December of that year the church was solemnly consecrated by Timothy Cardinal Manning.

One point of interest in the Mission is found behind the Mission building itself. Three Padres are buried there: Padre Vicente de Santa Maria, who died 16 July 1806; Padre Jose Senan, who died 25 August 1823; and Padre Francisco Suner, who died 17 Janaury 1831.

Today the mission has been engulfed by the city which grew up after the arrival of the railroad in 1887. The two great Norfolk Island pines which stand before it have an estimated age of well over 100 years. They reputedly were planted by a sailing captain in the hope that a forest of such giants would eventually provide a ready supply of ship masts.

The mission museum boasts a compact and interesting display of missionary relics. Among them are the remains of two old wooden bells, which were used in early ceremonies and are the only ones of this type known in California. Outside the museum building stands an ancient olive crusher designed for one-horse operation. The exterior of the church best represents its earliest appearance for the Indian handiwork that once graced the walls and altars within has been obliterated by the labors of later day "improvers."

In 1893, Father Cyprian Rubio modernised the interior of the church. He painted right over the Indians' original artwork. When he finished almost nothing remained of the old church. In 1957, new priests restored the church to its original style.


The Mission San Buenaventura, the ninth and last Mission founded by Father Serra, was completed and dedicated September 8, 1809. Since then it has been used almost every day, except from December 8, 1812 until April 1, 1813, during which time a succession of violent earthquakes damaged the belfry and the front of the church, making the Mission unsafe. Repairs were completed by the end of 1813. In November 1818, the Missionaries were ordered by the Governor to retire from the sea coast and take all valuable church goods, since the Peruvian Privateers were ravaging the area. They took to the hills and returned December 31, 1818.

Speculation and modernization changed the building in many respects. However, under the direction of the former pastor, Monsignor Francis Weber, it has been restored to its original state. Monsignor Weber is now historian of the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

The church walls of tile, stone and adobe are 6-1/2 feet thick. Built by Indian labor, it was fifteen years in construction. The rafters, tile and center aisle in the sanctuary are original.

The doors of the Mission are replicas of the originals, carved with the River of Life design, and studded with handmade nails. The relief plaster ornamentation above the doors express the Indian concept of the location of the Mission. The cross in the niche represents the Mission itself.

The main alter was placed in the church when it was built. The statue of the Patron Saint of the Mission, St. Bonaventure, is of Spanish style and was sent to California from the Philippines in 1808; it is judged to be over 400 years old. The formless statues of the Mother of Sorrow and St. John are on the sides of the crucifix. St. Anthony, left, and St. Thomas, right, are the small statues on high brackets. The Altar of Lady of Guadalupe has a painting by Francisco Cabrere, 1747, as its centerpiece. Statues of St. Isodore, right, and St. Gertrude, left, are near the painting.

In addition to the automatic bell, cast in France in 1956, the old bells, "St. Peter," and "St. Mary of Sapopa," cast in Mexico in 1815, are still hanging in the belfry.

The courtyard fountain is a replica of the original fountain that stood on the same spot, rebuilt by Mrs. E.C. Canet. The olive crusher in the garden was re-erected by Mrs. Jeanne Canet Garnier. The method of operation is explained in the Mission Museum.

A visit to the Mission Museum is well worthwhile. Among other authentic articles, the Museum has a Baptism and Death record written and signed by Father Serra, the original confessionals, and the remains of the reservoir.

The Mission is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 5:00pm and Sunday from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Guided tours may be arranged by calling the Mission Museum at 653-0323.


http://www.digitalaire.com/Ventura/VCC/Mission.html http://www.anacapa.net/~mission/2history.html http://www.californiamissions.com/morehistory/sanbuenaventura.html http://www.cuca.k12.ca.us/lessons/missions/Buenaventura/SanBuenaventura.html