Mission Santa Inés in Solvang can be overshadowed by its touristy location. Solvang is a great stop along the coast, transporting visitors to a Danish village with windmills, authentic aebelskiver, wooden figures, a great park for kids, and other quaintness. Solvang is a great family destination and Santa Inés provides the perfect respite from the downtown crowds with a brief lesson in an extensive history.
The Brutal Background
There is no sugar coating the history of the mission. It was officially founded in 1804 by Fr. Estevan Tapis and named after fourth century martyr Agnes of Rome. Warning: brutal story ahead. Agnes, at age 13, refused the son of a Roman governor who wanted to marry, proclaiming she was committed to Christ. As punishment, she was dragged naked to a brothel, where her hair grew long to cover her body, maintaining her modesty. Men who tried to rape her, were struck blind. She was then sentenced to die, where she was tied to a stake, yet the flames didn’t touch her. At this point she was beheaded. Agnes’s story is brutal, and in a way, she is the appropriate namesake for the mission, which also has a bloody struggle with fire and revolt.
The mission began to support local Native Americans by teaching them new skills with a side of conversion to Christianity. The Chumash tribe were taught about Spanish culture, leather-making, weaving, and ranching by those at the mission. In subsequent years, there was a revolt with fighting and fires, secularization, the Spanish succession cutting off supplies to soldiers, and a devastating earthquake. The 1800s were quite tumultuous for the mission, but the next century was filled with restoration, beginning in 1904, and continues on today.
The rocky past stands in contrast to the current peaceful retreat. We didn’t know how brutal Mission Ines’ past was until later, which may have helped us enjoy the quiet among the rolling hills and gorgeous roses.
Visiting Mission Santa Inés
We spent time in downtown Solvang first, among the crowds and other tourists, before heading over to the mission. This was perfect, as the mission’s setting is a short walk from downtown, but in a much different space. The property is large and quiet, and guests can walk all around.
Mission Inés is an active Catholic parish with daily mass. It’s beautiful that it’s a living mission, but the downside is that sometimes the church is closed for mass or ceremonies, as it was when we toured. That was fine for our kids because their highlight was the gift shop. They love all gift shops and they loved looking at the many crosses, prayer cards, and other religious ornaments.
Daily tours are self-guided with information at different locations explaining the artifacts. Docent-led tours are given on Wednesdays only from 10 a.m. to noon for $8 per person. Standard, self-guided tours are $6 per person, free for kids under age 12.
While the ground are spacious, it only takes about 30 minutes to see everything and have time to walk/run around the grounds. Add a little more time if you’re a gift shop lingerer, like my kids.
After our self-guided tour, we returned to the touristy downtown and our Danish-inspired vacation.
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