I had not been to Santa Barbara in over 20 years and Terry had never been so I was anxious to see if it was still recognizable to me. Time for lunch when we arrived so we did the touristy thing and headed to Stearns’ Wharf for clam chowder and crab cakes at the Santa Barbara Shellfish Company – very tasty indeed. Bigger lunch than we are accustomed to so we decided to browse State Street downtown and walk off some of our food.
We are not big-city folks any longer so, other than it being picturesque, it didn’t do much for us. However, if you love to shop, there is every store imaginable on this stretch and then some. The architecture and beautifully showcased windows make it all very inviting for the shopaholic. Personally, I was saving myself for what was to come, Old Mission Santa Barbara.
This was the 3rd mission we had visited in California. Each one is special in its own right and all are beautiful but we were in for a treat beyond our wildest expectations at this one. You will just have to wait a minute longer as I give you a brief history lesson for this landmark.
Old Mission Santa Barbara, dubbed “Queen of the Missions”, is the 10th of the 21 missions in California. 225 years later this mission is still very much alive and remains the chief cultural and historic landmark in Santa Barbara. Home to Franciscan friars, it has a beautiful church with an active parish, museum, gift shop, cemetery, and 10 acres of stunning landscape, to include an amazing rose garden.
December 4, 1786 marked the founding date for this mission by Spanish Franciscan Friar Fermín de Lasuén, successor to Padre Junipero Serra, who fashioned the first nine missions. Lasuén placed Padre Antonio Paterna, a companion to Serra, in charge of the mission.
Prior to the Spaniards arrival, the land was occupied by the Chumash Indians. Hunters and gatherers who were connected to the sea, they built plank boats (tomols), which they negotiated to the Channel Islands (on our list for tomorrow’s travels).
The original purpose for the mission was to convert the Chumash to Christianity. Once brought into the fold, the Franciscans taught the Chumash agriculture and worked with them to build a dam, which brought water to the mission via an aqueduct. Old Mission Santa Barbara had large numbers of sheep, pigs, goats, horses and mules at this time.
The present church on this site is the 4th, built in 1820. An earthquake on June 29, 1925 did extensive damage to it, during a chapel service. Thankfully no one was injured and restoration work was completed in 1927. Directly outside the chapel is the mission cemetery, dating back to 1789, and where lie the remains of early Santa Barbara settlers and Native Americans.
While walking through the cemetery we heard a spellbinding sound coming from the chapel. We wondered aloud if it was coming from speakers or from a choral group, as we had seen young men and women dressed in evening wear on the steps of the church when we arrived. When we poked our heads inside, lo and behold, it was the latter and we were allowed to watch, along with a handful of others already in attendance. Lined along both sides of the chapel walls were these same young men and women, the San Marcos High School Madrigals Chamber Choir, with their director, Carolyn Teraoka-Brady, in the center aisle leading them.
That is what they looked like and this is what they sound like. Their voices were heaven-sent and brought both of us to tears.
We learned from the director’s husband that these outstanding vocalists sang at Carnegie Hall in 2006, won Nationals in 2008 by a huge margin, and competed at the New York City Festival of Gold against the top 29 choirs in the U.S. and Canada. Just this past April they received the highest score for any group at the National Invitational Chorale Festival of Gold held at the Orange County Center for the Arts. They were even selected to sing the final concert of the evening.
Having learned all this, we felt so honored to be allowed to watch their performance, the last one they were to have together, as many were graduating. Carolyn’s husband said that his wife had done many things in her life and had finally found her calling. Given the breathtaking beauty of their voices, we would say she certainly has.
Our day in Santa Barbara was lovely but this special mission treat was the cherry on top!
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