107. Mission La Purísima Concepcion
Going back in time to Spanish California
By Miguel Pérez
There are places in California where traveling back in time is relatively easy. All you have to do is visit one of the 21 Spanish missions built in the 18th century by Native Americans and Spanish friars.
Restored and rebuilt several times, these missions - with their chapels, museums, courtyards and amazing relics - really have the power to take you back in time.
So the 18th century, back when California was still part of Spain, is all over the state, waiting to be re-experienced!
Often, the original missions were built in the 18th century, but because of earthquakes and abandonment, had to be rebuilt many years later. Such is the case of La Misión de La Purìsima Concepción de la Santìsima Virgen Marìa (“The Mission of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary”), established in 1787 in the present-day city of Lompoc, destroyed by a devastating earthquake in 1812 and rebuilt four miles to the northeast, across the Santa Ynez River, where it still stands today, as a California State Historic Park. The ruins of the original mission are still visible in South Lompoc too!
Originally established on December 8, 1787 by Father Fermín Francisco de Lasuén, as the 11th of the 21 California missions, La Purisima was rebuilt after the 1812 earthquake by Chumash neophytes led by Padre Mariano Payéras, who had been the mission's pastor since 1804. It was Payéras who led the mission's relocation and prosperity until his death in 1823. He didn't live long enough to see the mission's downfall.
After Mexico won its independence from Spain and California became part of Mexico in 1821, and mission soldiers stopped receiving financial support from the Spanish government, the missions suffered unrest and friction between the soldiers and the Chumash natives.
For nearly a month in 1824, the Chumash participated in a revolt and took control of Missions La Purisima, Santa Ines and Santa Barbara. It started when a Chumash from La Purisima was visiting Santa Ines and was whipped by a Spanish soldier.
But peace was restored and La Purisima kept operating for another decade, until Mexico secularized the California missions in 1834-36, replacing the Spanish padres with Mexican padres and turning over the administration of the missions from friars to government officials, causing the Chumash to gradually leave La Purisima and return to their villages.
On November 30, 1834, Domingo Carrillo assumed control of the La Purisima property as civil commissioner, and by 1843, the mission was mostly abandoned.
In 1845, Pio Pico, the last governor of Mexican California, sold La Purìsima at auction to a Los Angeles rancher. And while the property kept changing hands for the next few decades, and used primarily for farming and raising cattle, the mission buildings deteriorated, due to vandalism and neglect.
California became part of the United States in 1848, and the 31st state in 1850. By the time the U.S. government returned the La Purisima property to the Catholic Church in 1874 - 40 years after Mexico's secularization - the mission was in ruins.
But in 1933, almost a century after secularization, thanks to a new alliance between the church, the state, Santa Barbara County and the National Parks Service, an agreement was reached to transfer the property to the State of California, and a new project to restore the mission was begun. Restoration of the mission's nine large buildings, as well as many smaller structures, and the original aqueduct system, took several years, until the mission was rededicated in 1941 as a state park.
Now, La Purisima is considered the most extensively restored mission in the state. And while other current missions are only portions of what they used to be, La Purisima is the only example of a complete California Spanish mission complex.
It is also one of only two (along with Mission San Francisco de Solano) that are no longer under the control of the Catholic Church.
It's really a living history museum, complete with a series of signs that give you an education as you follow a self-guided tour. You not only visit a church, a garden and a cemetery; here you see the living barracks of the missionaries and soldiers, and the traditional Chumash tule homes. You see two infirmaries, recognizing the prominence of European diseases that affected the native population.
You see a weaving shop, a granary, a pottery shop, a corral with many farm animals, a carpentry shop, a blacksmith shop, a leather shop, a community laundry, a mission store and many other facilities recreating California life in the early 1800's.
(See photos below. See that each sign is translated to Spanish. To enlarge the photos, and read the signs in English, click on them!)
The reconstructed La Purìsima Mission complex was first classified as a state historic monument. It was reclassified a state historic park in 1963. In 1970, it was declared a U.S. National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
To enlarge the signs bellow, click on them!