How the bats saved Mission San Buenaventura

by Richard Senate

Fr. Rubio was the rector of the old Mission in Ventura in the mid 19th Century. He saw it as his goal to modernize the church and make it up to date. There was even talk of demolishing the Mission Church and replacing it with a wooden Gothic monstrosity so beloved by Victorians. Fortunately for history, there wasn’t enough money for such an ambitious project.

So, Fr. Rubio, did his best to disguise the historic nature of the church. He took out the small windows in the chapel and replaced them with long stainedglass windows that did little to illuminate the interior. Then, he installed a wooded floor over the titles put in by the Chumash and painted out the designs the Native Converts used on the walls. The high ceiling was hidden by a false ceiling (to better heat the chapel). In all ways he tried to eliminate the humble beginnings of the church. When he demolished the fountain, some in Ventura protested that it should be preserved. The good father said, “Why? We have older things in Spain.”

The “modernized church” stood for many years in this way until a grant from the Hearst Foundation in 1952 permitted the church to be restored to something like the way it was in the days of Imperial Spain. When the wooden floors were removed, the old tiles were preserved where the Chumash prayed long ago. The stainedglass window removed and the spaces filled in. The renovation of the paintings of the Stations of the Cross, used all the allotted cash. They could do no more. But they did start to removed the false ceiling so that visitors could at least see the powerful beams that hold the roof. When they did, they discovered that bats had been roosting in the space! The false ceiling was filled with piles of bat droppings! As you may know, Guano, bat poop, is one of the richest of all fertilizers. The good ladies of the church made little cotton bags, stuffed in the guano and sold it! They made enough money to finish the restoration of the Mission Chapel. So, in a humble way, the bats help to restore the Mission.

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