102. Mission San Buenaventura
Survived Earthquakes and Pirates
By Miguel Pérez
In spite of earthquakes, a tidal wave, a fire and even pirates, Mission San Buenaventura, a beautiful Franciscan mission established very close to the Pacific Ocean in 1782, is still standing in downtown Ventura, California.
Of course, most of it has been rebuilt. But the ninth and last California mission established by Father Junípero Serra is still serving the San Buenaventura community. The church, which was last "modernized" in 1893, still functions as a parish of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. It has daily morning masses and there are six more masses (some in Spanish) during the weekends.
On Easter Morning, March 31, 1782, Serra is said to have raised a Cross at "la playa del canal de Santa Barbara (the beach at the Santa Barbara Channel)," celebrated a High Mass, and dedicated the mission to San Buenaventura (Saint Bonaventure), a 13th century Franciscan saint and Doctor of the Church.
Serra was assisted by Padre Pedro Benito Cambón, who was left in charge of the new mission. Cambón is credited for later leading the Chumash natives to the construction of a seven-mile long aqueduct that brought the San Buenaventura River to the mission. The aqueduct was built between 1805 and 1815 and remained active until 1862, when it was damaged by a flood and abandoned.
After the mission's first church was destroyed by fire, construction of the current church took its neophyte builders 16 years, from 1793 to 1809. It is the only building from the original mission that is still standing, in spite of a series of earthquakes and even a seismic sea wave that caused serious damage to the rest of the mission.
And while the priests and the neophytes had to take refuge further inland when a tidal wave swept through the mission in 1812, they had to do it again six years later - even removing all sacred objects from the church - when mission pillaging pirates swept through the area.
After the Mexican government secularized all California missions in 1834, taking them away from the Catholic Church, the missionaries and even the neophytes who built them, the San Buenaventura lands were leased or sold to private investors.
Yet after California became a state of the Union, the Church petitioned the U.S. government to return at least part of the mission holdings, and in 1862, by way of a proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln, the church, clergy residence, cemetery, orchard, and vineyard were returned to the Catholic Church.
Today, the mission museum exhibits Chumash Indian artifacts and mission-era items. Perhaps most fascinating are San Buenaventura's wooden bells, which are not only unique to this mission, but the only full-sized wooden bells in the world!
See photos and more details below. But why wooden bells? Their muted sound apparently avoided attracting pirates!
To enlarge these images, click on them!
Our California Road Trip has to leave the car behind and trek up a mountain to the Father Serra Cross. Stay tuned!