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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Father Junipero Serra chose the site for the Mission in a dedication ceremony on March 31, 1782. The mission is the 9th and the last to be founded by Father Serra before he died. Father Serra dedicated the mission to Saint Bonaventure.
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Mission History Button   Location and Geography
Sources Button   The Mission is located on the upper part of the southern coast just a few miles from the ocean. The city of Ventura grew up around the mission.
Bibliography History Button  
    The Native Americans
    The main tribe in the area around Mission San Buenaventura was the Chumash. The Chumash were one of the larger tribes in California. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Chumash were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families. Sea Otters lived in the ocean near La Purisima and were hunted by traders. These hunters threatened the tribe members not living with the protection of the Mission and many moved to the mission for their help.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They would encourage local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. The first buildings would be built of wood poles and brush. Eventually the buildings would be replaced by larger adobe brick or stone buildings. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didn’t think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes weren’t perfect squares because the Fathers didn’t have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.

The Mission took 50 years to build, but most of the buildings were completed by 1809. Mission San Buenaventura is unique because it has wooden bells as well as metal bells. The wooden bells had been carved from blocks of wood two feet thick and were used during the week before the Easter celebration when the church thought metal bells shouldn’t be used. An earthquake in 1812 destroyed many buildings and damaged the aqueduct that brought water to the Mission. The Mission was rebuilt by 1816.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the Mission was difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives. During the early years most Missions had trouble supporting themselves and depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain and other Missions. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. It normally took several years before a Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle and other animals to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.

Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules.

Fr. Jose Señan lived at the Mission from 1806 to 1823. He allowed the natives to continue some of their Chumash traditions such as temescals, or sweat houses. Mission records show that there were 1328 neophytes living at the Mission by 1816. The Mission required anyone over 5 years old to go through religious education classes. Unfortunately European visitors carried diseases that the natives had never been exposed to and their bodies had no defense against. By 1834 diseases had killed many of the neophytes living at the Mission and had killed about 60% of the natives living at the Mission.

The soil around the Mission was quite good and the Mission grew barley, oats, and wheat and had orange orchards and grapevines. The Mission also had horses and cattle. The cattle were very important for providing food, oil, and hides.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    The Mission was secularized in 1834 but given back to the Fathers in 1843. In 1846 the Governor of California, Pio Pico decided the Mission could be sold and it was bought by Jose Arnaz. Eventually after California became a state in 1862 President Lincoln gave the church back to the Catholic Church and services were held there again beginning in 1878.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    Because the Mission was used after it was secularized, the Mission did not deteriorate as much as other Missions did. The Mission is an active church parish with a school, Holy Cross School, built in 1922.
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