The 1812 Santa Barbara Earthquake: Mission La Purisima

The extraordinary and horrible earthquake, which this Mission suffered on the memorable day of the glorious Apostle St. Thomas, entirely destroyed the church and vestry, buried under the walls the various images and paintings, and ruined the greater part of the furniture. ... Some of the work shops went down ... One hundred houses of neophyte Indians and the community kitchen, the walls of which were an adobe and a half thick, and roofed with tiles, have become inserviceable. The garden walls of adobe, covered with tiles, have collapsed or threaten to fall. ... Experience may teach us the best method of constructing other buildings.

-report of Fathers Payéras and Ripoll, December 31, 1812.

[We] have observed with sorrow that all of the structures are ruined from the foundations to the roof: that the church is demolished from the foundation up: and that neither Fathers, nor soldiers, nor neophytes will or can, without terror or risk, live in their habitations, which have partly fallen, are partly out of plumb, and are in many parts seriously cracked.

-letter from Father Payéras to the Spanish governor of California

-report and letter from Mission La Concepcion Purisima de Maria Santisima, by Zeyphyrin Engelhardt, Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California, 1932.

The Spanish missions in 1812 consisted of much more than just a church, as is often imagined. At the time of the disaster 999 Indians, two Padres, and a handful of soldiers resided at Mission La Purisima. These missions were working ranches: at the time of the earthquake, Mission La Purisima had 4000 cattle, 12000 sheep, 1150 horses, and grew wheat, corn, and beans. The Mission even had vineyards, from which the good Padres made wine.


Ruins of Mission La Purisima, circa 1935 (32 kb)

Ground Crack behind Mission


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