Mission San Buenaventura

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Mission San Buenaventura
Mission San Buenaventura
An exterior view of the restored chapel at Mission San Buenaventura in July, 2005.
Mission San Buenaventura is located in California
Mission San Buenaventura
Location of Mission San Buenaventura in California
Location211 East Main Street
Ventura, CA 93001
Coordinates34°16′52″N 119°17′53″W / 34.28111°N 119.29806°W / 34.28111; -119.29806Coordinates: 34°16′52″N 119°17′53″W / 34.28111°N 119.29806°W / 34.28111; -119.29806
Name as foundedLa Misión San Buenaventura[1]
English translationThe Mission of Saint Bonaventure
PatronSaint Bonaventure[2]
Nickname(s)"Mission by the Sea"[citation needed]
Founding dateMarch 31, 1782[3]
Founding priest(s)Junípero Serra[4]
Founding OrderNinth [2]
Military districtSecond [5]
Native tribe(s)
Spanish name(s)
Native place name(s)Mitsqanaqa'n[6]
Baptisms3,875 [7]
Marriages1,097 [7]
Secularized1836 [2]
Returned to the Church1862 [2]
Governing bodyRoman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles
Current useParish church / museum
Official name: Mission San Buenaventura and Mission Compound Site
Reference no.#75000496
Reference no.#310

Mission San Buenaventura is a Spanish mission founded by the Franciscans in present-day Ventura, California. Founded on March 31, 1782, it was the ninth Spanish mission established in Alta California (Or Nueva California) and the last to be established by Father Junípero Serra. The mission was named after Saint Bonaventure, a 13th century Franciscan saint and Doctor of the Church. The mission is located in the historic downtown of Ventura.

Mission San Buenaventura was planned to be founded in 1770, but the founding was delayed because of the low availability of the military escorts needed to establish the mission. In 1793, the first church burned down. Today, only a small section of the entire mission complex still stands;


The founding of the San Buenaventura Mission traces to the decision on Palm Sunday, March 30, 1749, by the Franciscan priest Junipero Serra to journey to the New World as a missionary to the native peoples.

Thirty-three years and one day later he 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 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[citation needed] of twenty-one missions founded by Serra but was destined to be the ninth and last founded during his lifetime, and one of six he personally dedicated.

Under the direction of Cambon, whom Serra left in charge of the new mission, a system of aqueducts were built by the Chumash between 1805–1815 to meet the needs of the Mission population and consisted of both ditches and elevated stone masonry. The watercourse ran from a point on the Ventura River about ½ mile north of the remaining ruins and carried the water to holding tanks behind the mission, a total of about 7 miles (11 km). 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 water distribution system was damaged by floods and abandoned in 1862.

The mission's first church building 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. A dedication was held on September 9 of that year and the first liturgical services took place on September 10. At about that time, the San Miguel Chapel and the Santa Gertrudis Chapel were completed.

A series of earthquakes and an accompanying seismic sea wave in 1812 forced the priests and Indian neophytes to seek temporary shelter a few miles inland. Six years later the priests 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.

The Mexican government in 1834 issued a secularization decree divesting the priests of administrative control over the missions. In 1845 Mission San Buenaventura was rented to Don Jose Arnaz and Narciso Botello and was later illegally sold to Arnaz.

The mission did not fully escape the impact that the Mexican–American War of 1846–1847 had on California. On January 5, 1847, while on its way from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles, the 428 men-strong California Battalion, under the command of U.S. Army Major John C. Fremont, managed to disperse an armed force of up to 70 enemy Californios near the mission.

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.

Because of severe damage in the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake, the Mission's tile roof was replaced by a shingle roof. In 1893, Cyprian Rubio "modernized" the interior of the church, painting over the original artwork; when he finished, little of the old church was untouched. 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 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.

The education of children at Mission San Buenaventura has flourished intermittently since 1829 (during Mexican rule) and continuously since 1922. Originally a four-classroom structure, Holy Cross School served its students and the parish admirably since its 1922 dedication. In 1925 it was expanded to accommodate growth and in 1949 a subsequent renovation brought it out to Main Street (El Camino Real) with no space left for further expansion.

In a major restoration under the supervision of Aubrey J. O'Reilly 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 bell tower above the four ancient hand-operated bells.

The second half of the twentieth century brought more growth, as well as wear-and-tear and obsolescence, and the school's problems far exceed spatial deficiency. In response to this situation, the San Buenaventura Mission parish, under the leadership of Monsignor Patrick J. O'Brien, formed a Planning and Development Committee comprising parishioners, faculty, parish staff, and parents, and in June 1994 hired the downtown firm of Mainstreet Architects and Planners to prepare a conceptual master site plan for the mission properties, incorporating the design of a new school and an adjoining multi-purpose building which would serve both school and parish. This plan also necessitated the deconstruction of the convent and the two remaining Holy Cross Sisters moved into the larger St. Catherine by the Sea convent, a short distance from the Mission.

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. In 1982 the Mission marked its bicentennial. A new three-story school building, with pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and grades 1–8, located at the base of the hill behind the Mission, was dedicated in January 2001. The school also houses the Serra Chapel for Eucharistic Adoration, adult classrooms, a parish/school kitchen, and a large assembly hall used as a school auditorium and for large parish gatherings and one Sunday Mass. The assembly room was named after Monsignor Patrick O'Brien, who was the pastor of the church for 25 years until his sudden death in 2005. The mission celebrated its 225th anniversary with a year-long series of events and activities during 2006–07.

Today all that remains of the original mission is the church and its garden. A small museum sits at the mission with displays of Chumash Indian artifacts and mission-era items. Located in the historic downtown of Ventura, very few California missions had the center of business and commerce remain at the location where the mission was established like Mission San Buenaventura. The Church remains an active Catholic parish, serving approximately 2,000 families, and services are still held in the parish church. The current pastor is Tom Elewaut, who has served since 2011.

Other historic designations[edit]

Mission industries[edit]

Mission San Buenaventura circa 1900. Note the thickness of the chapel side wall and the massive buttresses supporting it.

Some animals at San Buenaventura were cattle, horses, sheep, donkeys and goats. The cattle were very important because they provided food, oil and hides. In the year of 1818, 35,274 cattle wandered over the mission lands. A little time after January 7, 1831, the animal population decreased to a low of 4,000 cattle, 3,000 sheep, 300 horses and 60 mules. In July 1839, Inspector-General E.P. Hartnell found 2,208 cattle, 1,670 sheep, 799 horses, 35 mules and 65 goats. The soil around Mission San Buenaventura was very good so the mission could grow many crops. San Buenaventura grew apples, grapes, bananas, pears, plums, pomegranates, figs, oranges, coconuts, beans, grain, corn and barley. In the year of 1818, 12,483 bushels of grain were harvested. Shortly after January 7, 1831, harvests had been reduced to 1,750 bushels of wheat, 2,000 bushels of barley, 500 bushels of corn, and 400 bushels of beans. In July 1839, Inspector-General William E.P. Hartnell found 322 fanegas of wheat, 182 fanegas of corn and 35 fanegas of peas.

Mission bells[edit]

Bells were vitally important to daily life at Mission San Buenaventura, which had five bells. The bells were borrowed from Mission Santa Barbara because there were no bells at the time. They were never returned. The bell facing north is labeled S. San Francisco 1781. The bell facing east has the inscription: San Pedro Alcantra 1781. A small swinging bell hangs in the southern arch with the lettering: Ave Maria S. Joseph. The only bell used daily at San Buenaventura is large and crown topped with a cross on its side. Inscribed on the bell is Ave Maria Pruysyma D Sapoyan Ano D 1825, which means "Hail Mary Most Pure. Mary of Zapopan Year of 1825." This bell was originally cast for the church of Zapopan but was later sent to Mission San Buenaventura. Another bell, which was once the gift of the Spanish Viceroy, is inscribed Marquez de Croix Mexico November 12, 1770. It is currently owned by Senora Isabel del Valle Cram. There are also two wooden bells in the museum that measure about two feet. These were the only wooden bells in the California missions.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Leffingwell, p. 55
  2. ^ a b c d Krell, p. 177
  3. ^ Yenne, p. 88
  4. ^ Ruscin, p. 196
  5. ^ Forbes, p. 202
  6. ^ Ruscin, p. 195
  7. ^ a b Krell, p. 315: as of July 26, 1997; information adapted from Engelhardt's Missions and Missionaries of California.
  8. ^ Krell, p. 315: as of December 31, 1832; information adapted from Engelhardt's Missions and Missionaries of California.


  • Forbes, Alexander (1839). California: A History of Upper and Lower California. Smith, Elder and Co., Cornhill, London.
  • Jones, Terry L. and Kathryn A. Klar (eds.) (2007). California Prehistory: Colonization, Culture, and Complexity. Altimira Press, Landham, MD. ISBN 0-7591-0872-2.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Krell, Dorothy (ed.) (1979). The California Missions: A Pictorial History. Sunset Publishing Corporation, Menlo Park, CA. ISBN 0-376-05172-8.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Leffingwell, Randy (2005). California Missions and Presidios: The History & Beauty of the Spanish Missions. Voyageur Press, Inc., Stillwater, MN. ISBN 0-89658-492-5.
  • Paddison, Joshua (ed.) (1999). A World Transformed: Firsthand Accounts of California Before the Gold Rush. Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA. ISBN 1-890771-13-9.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Ruscin, Terry (1999). Mission Memoirs. Sunbelt Publications, San Diego, CA. ISBN 0-932653-30-8.
  • Yenne, Bill (2004). The Missions of California. Thunder Bay Press, San Diego, CA. ISBN 1-59223-319-8.

External links[edit]