Brief History of Santa Inés

Mission Santa Inés Virgen y Mártir was founded on September 17, 1804, by the Franciscan Father Estévan Tapís. Located in rolling hills which provide one of the loveliest settings of any mission, Santa Inés has been called the “Hidden Gem of the Missions”. The location was chosen in a beautiful and well-watered valley, and among Indians who already had a knowledge of mission activity. The padres had every hope for a prosperous venture. However, bad luck was more often the rule at Santa Inés.

An extensive building program was not yet complete when everything tumbled to the ground in the earthquake of 1812. Although rebuilding began at once, it was five more years before all was finished.

Then there began to be trouble with the Indians. After Mexico began its path to independence in 1810, the government ceased to support the army. Soldiers in California needed to “live off the land”, which largely meant to live off the labor of Mission Indians. Quite naturally, resentment against the soldiers ran very high among these Native Americans. In February 1824, a most bizarre incident occurred at Mission Santa Inés. Well-armed Indians overwhelmed the mission guard and burned down all the soldiers’ barracks and workshops. Then, when it appeared the fire would destroy the church, the Indians threw down their weapons and helped to save it. Despite this show of devotion to the padres, the rebellious neophytes had had enough of mission life. After doing damage at two other missions, they disappeared into the Tulares.

The Altar of Mission Santa Inés

Mission Santa Inés benefited greatly at the time of secularization because of a ruse arranged by the one friendly Mexican Governor, Manuel Micheltoreña, and the Bishop of the Californias, Francesco Garcia Diego. Some 36,000 acres of land confiscated from the mission were given to the bishop for a college of religious education. The Franciscans and their successors operated the college and controlled the land for years. Although Pio Pico sold other mission properties, he could not get his hands on the college lands, which eventually were sold by the Church to private owners at a good profit.

The mission church building was never actually abandoned, and was strong enough to withstand an earthquake in 1911 which caused the bell tower to topple. Through the intervening years the tower was replaced, the cloister wing was rebuilt a section at a time, and the church was finally refurbished with great attention given to preserving the original appearance. Ceiling beams date back to 1817, when the present church was completed. They are of sugar pine and were hauled from mountains 30 miles away. The floor tiles also are original. Designs on the rear wall of the altar, and on the ceiling beams, were painted by Indians using native vegetable colors. A statue of Saint Agnes, in a niche in the center of the altar, is unique in that it is thought to have been created by native artists at the mission.

Some of the Latin missals, music books on parchment, and early vestments in the excellent museum are far older than the mission itself. Restoration of the cloister wing is now complete to the original 19th arch. The modern town of Solvang today adjoins the grounds of the old mission.