One story began in 1782, when Spanish soldiers and their families journeyed to Alta California and created the Santa Barbara settlement. The village grew around El Presidio, a military base that protected the Mission and functioned as an important center of civic activity. El Presidio, which still stands downtown, included a Catholic chapel where Jose Calisto, a soldado de cuera (“leather-coated soldier”), and Juana Maria Vitalia Feliz were wed on December 3, 1786. They were the first couple to be married in the little adobe church, which remains a popular wedding venue to this day.
Another story began more recently. Jacqueline Berniard and Josh Briner of Santa Barbara got engaged and planned their wedding for the fall of 2016. While Jac, a Catholic, had always looked forward to a church wedding, Josh had been previously married, and the Catholic church requires more than a legal divorce for a formerly married party to be eligible to marry in a church again. They require an annulment from the Vatican, a process that, according to the priest who broke the devastating news, would take at least a year. With the deposit for the reception site already paid, 12-18 months was time the young couple did not have.
Jac led the charge to secure another location, but weddings venues in Santa Barbara are commonly booked at least a year in advance. After an exhaustive search, only one location was available on their date: El Presidio Real’s chapel, recently relinquished by the Catholic Church and currently owned by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historical Preservation.
Then, the two stories overlapped: After they booked the Presidio, Josh, an eighth-generation Santa Barbaran, learned that he is a direct descendant of Calisto and Feliz, the first couple to marry in the Presidio chapel. Josh’s mother and great-aunt, who have a long-standing interest in family genealogy, made the exciting discovery when they consulted their family tree to confirm vague knowledge of relatives who’d been married in the early days of the Presidio. Suddenly, the Briners’ wedding had an added significance of almost 250 years of history and tradition.
Last October, 230 years after Josh’s ancestors were married in the little Franciscan church, Jac and Josh said their vows in front of the very same altar. The bells rang for three minutes after the couple married, and they, along with their wedding party, including Josh’s two sons, paraded from the Presidio to the Santa Barbara Historical Museum for the reception. A mariachi band played, and the couple had Spanish elements in their décor in honor of the family history.
Being the children of Santa Barbara’s original sons is unique, and the Briners have enthusiastically embraced the newfound depth of their family’s roots. Looking forward, Josh and Jac hope for children and continued health and happiness in Santa Barbara — and maybe some Fiesta soon, Jac said, there’s “El Presidente” in their future. The Briners’ wedding story, which began simply, became a tale of romance and tradition dating back to the first Spanish immigrants beginning life in the New World — certainly an auspicious start to the Briners’ new life as husband and wife.