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Mission la Purisma

By Cortez Cate


          The following is intended to be a brief account of the history of Mission La Purisima.  I have been near the mission many times and for at least ten-years I have intended to someday tour the Mission.  Recently my brother-in-law had visited and his recount along with the current studies I am involved in prompted my visit.

          Seeking answers to what I think are inconsistent details leads to much research and tons of reading. Particularly, historical studies seem to mandate acceptance of greatly condensed versions of reality.  The less I seek perfection the more enjoyment I seem to receive from the recordings of various reporters of what they believe to be a reasonable representation of the facts they believe they have assimilated, I sincerely hope.  In the past I have had problems with securing this tolerant attitude but I am happy to report that the more tolerant I hold my critical nature the more rewarding my pleasure becomes.

            The majority of this report is based on  the writing of Fr. ZEPHRYN ENGLEHARDT, O. F. M. (1851 - 1934) in the book titled; Mission La Concepcion Purisima; McNally & Loftin, Publishers, 1986, Santa Barbara.  Fr. Englehardt was the Archivist at the Santa Barbara Mission [1]  where the Archive Library contains the largest collection of documentary material on the California missions to be found anywhere.  The affiliated class is Foothill College’s History of California: The Multicultural State - Winter 2005; text, California An Interpretative History by James J. Rawls & Walton Bean.

Getting to Mission La Purisima:

            Geographically the Mission is just about one-third the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco near the city of Lompoc being very close to half-way to Monterey.  By highway it is 327 miles south of San Francisco and 154 miles north of Los Angeles.  Travel U.S. Highway 101 to the city of Buellton. Exit onto California Highway 246 west. Follow Highway 246 for about 18 miles and take the second turn on the right after passing the La Purisima Mission Golf Course. Mission La Purisima is about a mile down the road.  You can optionally take California Highway 1 at Gaviota traveling north or south bound you can divert to Highway 1 at Pismo Beach.  Some portions of U.S. Highway 101 and California Highway 1 travel the same course concurrently.  California Highway 1 follows closely, (not exactly), from San Diego to San Luis Obispo the path of the original El Camino Real [2] .  The present day Highway 1 passes about a mile from the Mission La Purisima and signs clearly direct travelers to the Mission.  The actual address is 2295 Purisima Road, Lompoc, CA, 93436; Phone (805) 733-2254.

Beginning My Tour of La Purisima:

            Since La Purisima is now a state park, the Division of Parks maintains the parking lot and the trails and some of the tours of the mission in cooperation with the Prelado de los Tesoros de La Purisima [3] , a nonprofit, educational, volunteer organization contributing to the overall goal of La Purisima Mission State Historic Park.  More than 100 dedicated docents [4] contribute over 23,000 hours annually assisting the Division of Parks with the upkeep and interpretation of the mission.  There is a parking fee per vehicle of $4.00 and seniors get a $1.00 discount.  The state park contains 1,900 acres, only a portion, of original mission land.  There are trails and back country activity including hiking, biking and horseback riding including picnic areas.  Generally the park is open from 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. daily.  The park is closed New Years, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Please use this URL for supporting photos.

New Visitor Center Building:

Cortez Cate From the parking lot my wife and I first toured the visitor’s center, a brand new structure and the nearest building to the entrance.  This is a picture of me on the trail from the parking lot up to the new visitor center building.  We were very fortunate to meet a nice lady, JoAnne Culbertson, who is the chairman of the visitor center committee and was working at the visitor center the day we visited, Feb. 26, 2005.  This was indeed our good fortune as JoAnne explained so much to us that we could not have garnered in any other way.  You can do a self-guided tour at any time during your visit and you can also take a free scheduled tour with a guide at 11:00AM and 2:00PM on weekends and Monday thru Friday at 2:00PM only.  The guided tour is from 60 to 90 minutes.  You may email JoAnne to request further information or brochures at .

The new visitor center building is only about twenty-five percent of the size it will ultimately be.  Still there are already in place several of the permanent displays as well as a full size cut-away display of how the adobe walls were originally and how they were reinforced with steel during the rebuilding that began with the CCC in 1934.  I was really surprised at the displays and the information that JoAnne shared with us.  That was a bonus I did not expect.  Most of the rest of the tour was fairly corresponding to what I expected to see but none the less impressive.  Having been raised on a farm I knew from personal experience much of what to expect.  Even so I was impressed.

Original Infirmaries:

Gift Shop & Book Store:

            Leaving the visitor center; the next buildings (on this side of the creek that runs alongside the parking lot) the two buildings that you see behind me in the following picture were the Infirmary during mission times.  Today the first building houses some really fantastic displays in glass models of renderings of the mission and the surrounding areas.  The other building has a gift shop and book store with lots of information and relative items of the mission period.  It is equally accessible at the beginning of your self-guided tour or at the end. 

Creek Crossing - El Camino Real:

Next is the small creek that was roaring with water, thanks to the recent rains, at the time of my visit; informational plaques and signs are posted near this trail.  The trail leads to the cemetery that is next to the bell tower.  As you traverse this trail you will cross over or actually be on the original El Camino Real as it passes by some of the fenced pasture and corrals of the mission.  Visualize the creek running between the Infirmary and the Mayordoma [5] quarters.  It is about 200 yards from the Infirmary to the barracks, that housed the Mayordoma and soldiers, and the creek is about 100 feet from the Infirmary. Behind the bell tower is the tallow rendering vats that contributed much of the industry produced by the mission.  They are sitting about ten to fifteen feet in elevation above the bell tower ground level on the side of the canyon hill that is two hundred feet or more above the valley floor.  From the tallow they made soap, candles and several other important items that were actually vital to the comfort and functional ability of daily life.

From the bell tower looking Northwest the rest of the mission stretches out in a straight line (see heading photo) for easily one quarter mile total.  Not shown on the sketch above is the Blacksmith shop that lies another 100 yards northwesterly of the chapel building or toward the bottom of the page.  Also between the Chapel and the blacksmith shop are hog pens and gardens.

            The fields and orchards lie across the creek from the blacksmith shop.  Heading back down the creek toward the Infirmary are the areas that the native huts were basically confined to.  Here I am standing in front of one of the actual replicas of a Chumash hut.  In this area of the mission are many different plants and gardens as well as the lavatory and laundry area that the natives regularly used.  The Chumash were very hygienic and bathed frequently and always located where bathing was facilitated.

In the courtyards behind the buildings you see, if you use this virtual tour, are chickens, turkeys and other fowl that the mission utilized in its daily operations.

            The area where the native huts are and the lavatories and fountains are unique and beautiful.  There are numerous large oak trees and many other trees in that area as well as the quarters for the single native girls.  We saw a family that was enjoying their tour with a picnic and birthday celebration.  Follow the fountain link above to enjoy the beauty of this area.

My wife and I enjoyed our self-tour for about three and a half hours when we decided to head back to the gift shop and call it a day of remarkable experience.  La Purisima is by far the most unique of the missions I have visited.  Even though the docents were not in costume while we were on our tour we are committed to come again when there are scheduled activities that make the visit even more fun and realistic.  Of particular interest to me is the candlelight (from the homepage select “Activities”) tours scheduled for October 14 and 15, 2005.  Tickets are $35 per person and become available for sale July 1 by mail order only. (Dinner is included.) Tickets sell out quickly, and reservations are made according to the post mark date. Guests are advised to contact the mission prior to July 1 to obtain information and procedures. Call (805) 733-3713 for information. Make checks out to Prelado de los Tesoros.  I am anxiously looking forward to this event.


Mission La Purisima, the eleventh of twenty one Missions, was founded on December 8, 1787, by Fr. Presidente of the Missions, Fr. Fermin de Lasuen, in the presence of Governor Pedro Fages [6] , governor of  Alta California [7] at a site just south of the Santa Inez River and on the eastern boundary of the present day City of Lompoc. Mission Purisima was the first Mission Establishment dedicated to the honor of God, the complete title recorded by Fr Fermin de Lasuen: “La Purisima Concepcion de Maria Santisima,” meaning “The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” or another interpretation being “The immaculate Conception of Mary the Most Pure.”  The Spanish called this fertile valley west of the El Camino real, the plain of Rio Santa Rosa, and the Chumash Indians, the indigenous natives of the area, called the valley Algsacpi.

Notably this dedication occurred well before the Immaculate Conception was declared a dogma of Faith and before the request of the American hierarchy to the Holy See for Mary, as Patroness of the United States, under the same title.

For six hundred years, Mary Immaculate has been honored by the Franciscan Order as its chief Patroness.


Winter, 1787, was very rainy, and building had to wait until Spring. In March, 1788, Fathers Vincente Fuster and Joseph Arroita arrived at La Purisima Mission. They built temporary buildings and started translating the Catholic mass and instructional materials into the native language. A corporal and five soldiers protected the settlement.

Other missions sent farm animals, food, seeds and cuttings for orchards and vineyard to La Purisima Mission.

Supplies came from Mexico by ship. The natives started coming, and in a report dated December 31, 1798, La Purisima reported it did not have enough space for its 920 inhabitants. A new church building was started.

Mistreatment Alleged:

In 1800, Father Horra, formerly of Mission San Miguel, made a formal accusation, against La Purisima, that the natives were suffering horrible mistreatment.  The Spanish governor investigated, and the Fathers at La Purisima reported about their life. They said natives received three meals a day, and also gathered their wild foods. Neophyte men got a woolen blanket, a cotton suit and two woolen breech cloths, while women received gowns, skirts and woolen blankets. The natives continued to live in their traditional tule (reed) houses. They worked no more than five hours a day. Neophytes were punished if they left without permission, or stole something. Punishment included beatings, shackles, stocks and being locked up. The Spanish governor decided Father Horra's charges were unfounded.

Father Mariano Payeras:

            In 1802, the new church was completed, and in 1804, when Father Mariano Payeras arrived, there were 1,522 neophytes. La Purisima Mission prospered under Father Payeras, producing soap, candles, wool, and leather. The Fathers also earned money by sending the neophytes to work at neighboring ranchos.

            In the early 1800s, smallpox and measles struck and 500 natives died between 1804 and 1807.

Relocation Following the 1812 Earthquakes:

            On December 21, 1812, an earthquake damaged the buildings. More quakes followed, and most of the buildings fell. When heavy rains began, the unprotected adobe mud bricks melted back into mud. They chose a new site, four miles away in a small canyon, across the river and nearer to the El Camino Real. The Fathers officially moved there on April 23, 1813. Construction began immediately using materials salvaged from the ruined structures. Instead of the typical square layout, the new complex was built in a line along the base of the hill.

            In 1815, Father Payeras became Presidente of the California Missions, an office he held for four years. He stayed at La Purisima instead of moving to Carmel. In 1819, he was appointed to the highest rank among California Franciscans.

            After the Mexican Revolution in 1810, supplies stopped coming from Mexico, and so did money. Spanish governors would not let the Fathers buy things from foreign merchants, and there were shortages. The soldiers also grew dependent on the mission for their support, and often abused the natives.


Father Payeras died on April 28, 1823, and was buried under the pulpit. In 1824, growing conflict between the soldiers and the Indians turned into armed revolt, starting when soldiers at Santa Inez flogged a La Purisima Mission neophyte. When the news reached La Purisima, the neophytes took control. Father Ordaz, the soldiers and their families fled to Santa Inez, leaving Father Rodriguez behind. The natives built a fort and barricaded themselves inside, where they held out for over a month. It took over 100 soldiers from Monterey to regain control. Six Spaniards and seventeen Indians died in the conflict. As punishment, seven Indians were executed, and twelve others were sentenced to hard labor at the Monterey military fort.


            La Purisima Mission never recovered after the uprising.  In 1834 Mexico ordered the secularization of the missions.  Since the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1810 hardly any support, if any at all, had come from the government.  Even the military had not been paid by the Mexican administration.  This failure to receive funding though extended well back into the Spanish rule of Alta California.  The missions bore the unjust burden of supporting the military as well as the government for much of the missionary period or era.  Still they somehow managed to continue to expand with the twenty-first and last, Mission San Francisco Solano, being founded in 1823 a mere eleven years ahead of their demise.

The Indians disappeared from La Purisima and the Fathers moved to Santa Barbara. The buildings were left unattended destined to ruin.  Some eleven years later, in 1845, John Temple of Los Angeles bought everything at a public auction for $1,100.

La Purisima Mission Today:

The buildings lay in ruins until 1903, when Union Oil Company bought the property. Recognizing the historical importance of the site, they donated it to the state in 1930. In 1935, the CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps, implemented by President Roosevelt, started restoring La Purisima Mission. They used the same methods as the missionaries, and made new adobe bricks from the remains of the old walls but they reinforced them with steel in accordance with that eras construction standards. They also recreated the water system, and replanted gardens and orchards.

Ironically the newly restored mission complex was dedicated on December 7, 1941   I assume and hope that this dedication happened before the terrible events that would unfold that day at Pearl Harbor.  Birth; December 8, 1787; earthquake destruction December 31, 1812; resurrection December 7, 1941.  The complete restoration, the most complete of all the California missions, was not considered finished until 1951. Today, there are ten fully-restored buildings with 37 furnished rooms.

Actually the work going on today is a continuation of the restoration that was considered finished in 1951.  The visitor center is a relatively new idea and the planning alone was very expensive taking most of the funds that were available.  Donations are welcomed and encouraged. 

The mission welcomes all types of educational inquires and has for several years been involved with 4th grade children in the Central California area.  This program is available to any California 4th grade class that wishes to visit.  They have a special program and the docents go to extremes to produce a memorable experience for the children who are fortunate enough to participate in this field trip.  In the new visitor center is a bulletin board where the many thank you notes from these students are posted.  It is indeed heartwarming to read what these children have written and how they have expressed their gratitude.  This was the experience I least expected having no prior knowledge of and had I not been fortunate enough to meet JoAnne Culbertson I would not have seen this exhibit or learned of the involvement in the education community. 

JoAnne had a map, much like the one in our text book showing the location of the natives at the beginning of the mission era.  I asked if I could purchase one.  She explained that it was the only one available but she would gladly send me a copy the following week and she did.  I am anxious to return and have marked my calendar to attend ‘Mission Life Days’ on March 19, and ‘Mountain Men’ on March 25.

Mission La Purisima Chronology:

1787 - Father Lasuen founds
1804 - Father Payeras arrives
1812 - Earthquake, mission moved
1823 - Father Payeras dies
1824 - Indian uprising
1835 - Secularization
1845 - Sold at auction for $1,100
1935 - Restoration begins

Relative Links:

            The following links are provided for your convenience.  All of these sites and many more were visited to get information used in this report.  All these sites are relative to the study of California History.  Some are a little better than others but the answers to all of my questions have been answered from the sites below. Photos of La Purisima this site contains very good photos. La Purisima Picture Tour La Purisima State Park Photos of La Purisima by City of Lompoc. Phelipe de Neve Bibliographies, Books Relative Links Mission San Buenaventura Santa Barbara  First City (Neve) Founder of L.A. (Neve) Timeline for settlement of coast (Neve) Captain Fernando de Rivera Spanish Governors 1768-1822 The best explanations of the chronology of Spanish Governors Governors of California Spanish Governors Mexican Governors Missions of California Prideful Mission & Little Town Los Angeles A California Chronology The Spanish Incursion.  This is a very good timeline…. does not support Rawls contention that Serra petitioned Viceroy Bucarili to remove Fages. Very good history of Fernando Javier Rivera y Monacda also tells of succession as governor etc.  Elaborates on the inconsistent report of Rivera’s age (70) reported in official documents but believed to be only 57 years old accurately. Chronology of California History; 1530 - 1848:  Spanish Colonization: A Selected Bibliography of California History: Los Angeles State of Ca. Governors;query=Governors+California;subsearch=Governors+California Lii org. governors of California, Spanish, Mexican and U.S. periods. Biography of Fr. Serra SBC presents a tribute to the California Missions.  Follow the many good links contained…. Mission La Purisima  Mission La Purisima / CCC MLA citations properly How to cite (MLA) La Purisima; use for beginning of report.  Quick Time Plug In Panoramic view(s) of La Purisima





[4] Generally refers to a volunteer who has learned to guide or give instructions within an organization.

[5] The Mayordomo was a very important and powerful person at the mission. Often the Padres would select a retired soldier or an Indian to hold this position. The Mayordomo directed the farming and ranching operations at the mission for the Padres.

[6] California An Interpretative History Eight Edition; By James J. Rawls and Walton Bean; Pedro Fages is noted as the first Governor of California (albeit, this is a quasi notation) on page 35 paragraph 3; on page 40 paragraph 2 Fr. Serra appealing to the new Viceroy Bucareli of New Spain is successful in 1773 of having Fages replaced by Captain Rivera as Governor of Alta California. -- 1770-1774: Felipe de Barri

Actual power through 1774 was in the hands of the military commander Pedro Fages who is sometimes listed as the governor during this period. --- Pedro Fages was again governor of California from 1782 – 1791;

[7] It appears that some of the confusion in the title of Governor rests in the fact that the Viceroy apparently appointed a governor to head both Baja and Alta California; subsequently that Governor would send another officer, a Sub-Governor, in his place to care for and reside in the more remote Alta California.

Mission La Purisma by: Cortez Cate

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