With vistas of rocky beaches, farms, sandy beaches, and ranches, the drive to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park from Los Angeles reminds me of everything I like about Southern California. Entering the park itself is like stepping back in time.
Sheep and goats fill the corrals, turkeys gobble, and horses graze. We look around for an Indian shepherd, or a neophyte coming to gather the dried hides to be tanned, but apparently this is a non-living history day. The pastoral quiet is soothing.
Because it is a State Historic Park, La Purisima receives grant funding and has enjoyed massive restoration. Beginning in 1935, the California Conservation Corps performed painstaking research. CCC completely restored the buildings using the original construction methods, adobe bricks, clay tiles, handmade furniture.
Many living history events are held here throughout the year. This gives visitors the opportunity to see first-hand what life was like when the mission was at its peak. Docents and reenactors demonstrate mission crafts and skills. From grinding corn and making tortillas, to spinning wool and soap and candle making, everything is produced by the mission.
The tallow vats above were used to melt animal fat in preparation for making soap and candles. An abalone shell to hold holy water at the entrance to the church is representative of California’s coastal bounty. The church itself is sparse, much as it must have been when the 11th Mission was founded and the faithful stood and knelt or sat on the bare floor.
Extreme would be the word to describe the history of La Purisima. The mission was founded on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1797. In just one year, there were over 900 residents. Construction began on a new church but by 1804, the neophyte population had reached 1,520.
Scandal is nothing new to the Catholic Church. Accusations of mistreatment of the indians brought an investigation of the Franciscan padres and the military by the Spanish Governor. The accusations proved unfounded.
Extreme disaster followed extreme prosperity. In 1804, death and disease began to claim the lives of the Indian converts. The massive earthquake of 1812, followed by heavy rains, leveled the mission and its outbuildings.
Due to the devastation of the original mission, the padres relocated the new mission to the north. The new construction marked a departure from the traditional quadrangle mission plan. Laying the buildings out in a line worked better with the natural contours of the land. This allowed for a quick escape as well as preserving the farmland. As a result, extreme prosperity returned.
Because of the direction of Father Mariano Payeras, the mission continued to enjoy peace and prosperity. Unfortunately, after his death in 1823, the Chumash began to revolt against the military. Finally, the Mexican government took control of the property in 1834.
The government sold La Purisima at auction and as a result, the mission fell into ruin.
Fortunes began to improve in 1903 when then owner Union Oil Company realized that the mission grounds were an important part of history. Remarkably, the company donated much of the land to the State of California and restoration began.
Today, La Purisima Mission is building a new Visitor Center Complex. It will include a museum, exhibits and gift shop. The Mission offers many school programs and activities, as well as numerous living history events and an annual art show and sale.
La Purisima Mission and State Historic Park
2295 Purisima Rd.
Lompoc, CA 93436