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Mission Santa Inés, California


Mission Santa Ines, once a key segment in Spain's 18th century system of missions, presidios and pueblos stands at the edge of Solvang, California, a town largely given over to celebrating its Danish heritage.

P1120587P1120556The mission today is an active church, with its core buildings fully restored over the past hundred years; in the early years of the 20th century, the new Danish neighbors played a sizable part in the restoration.

The mission's museum has a sizable collection of Spanish-era artifacts and religious artworks

California's chain of Spanish missions, among its most popular visitor attractions, are also tightly-woven into California's history; probably nothing else besides the Gold Rush has influenced it as much.

Priestly robes and a vestment chest used to store them, and a hymnal with old-style musical notation

Today, some of the original twenty-one missions are active parishes and some are museums. Each has its own story, but there are common threads, and when you visit eight or ten of them one after the other, as I did, you begin to see them.

The chapel at Santa Ines is in regular use; its draperies create a reminder of stonework in grander churches

Bulletin boards and baskets in one corner give evidence of current-day community use.

All were created as outposts of Spain's colonial rule, designed to solidify control of its previously-neglected northern territory; all had sharp declines after Mexico replaced Spain as ruler of California; all had their lands taken by Mexico and redistributed to rich ranchers in the 1820s, and all of them have some degree of ambivalence about the story of their relations with native peoples.

P1120567P1120564P1120511Both in its museum along its garden walks, the mission has inspired models.

The Franciscan priests who were sent out to start the missions had a plan to make them self-supporting and even profitable: Convert the native peoples to the Catholic church, and convert them into reliable agricultural labor, whether they wanted to or not. The natives were forced to live at the mission, under sometimes dire conditions, and work the fields and mills of the mission.


After Mexican independence, financial support for the missions stopped, and the vast lands—nearly a sixth of California—were taken either by law or force by unpaid soldiers and officials, creating some of the great 'ranchos' of pre-U.S. California. In 1865, Lincoln restored the missions to church ownership, but not the lands, and many fell into serious disrepair.

A pair of the mission's bells, used not only to announce time for religious services, but to mark the hours of rising, working and resting.

The museums at the different missions diverge in their presentation of history. At some, you would get the impression that the Indians flocked to salvation and loved the system; others acknowledge that there was forced labor and harsh treatment, led by Father Junipero Serra, who led the establishment of the missions.


Aside from the Mission's museum, which includes the chapel, Santa Ines' gardens make for a pleasant walk, and a place to see the overall design of the connected buildings.


The reconstruction of the Mission's buildings during the early to middle 20th century restored its full colonnaded walkway; a remnant of the original stands just to the side.


I visited Santa Ines in March, when many Covid restrictions were in place in the state, and some of the missions weren't open to visits. Of those that were, the two most complete museums were at Santa Ines, and St Luis Rey in San Diego.


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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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