The Mission San Diego de Alcala was the first mission founded in Alta California, in 1769 by Father Junípero Serra. The location of the current mission is the second location, having been moved to more fertile soil five years after the mission was established. The original site was on a bluff overlooking the water, where the Presidio was located (there is a park preserving the site, but no original historic structures remain), so it is aptly named Presidio Hill. The Presidio was also founded in 1769, a few months earlier than the Mission.
Colonists began arriving shortly after the mission was built, but sadly, there was an uprising by the Native Americans, who killed the priest and two other people and burned the mission. It was rebuilt at the original site as a fireproof adobe, but in 1774 it was moved 6 miles inland along the San Diego River to ensure a consistent water supply. Like other missions from the time, it was destroyed periodically by earthquakes; in this case earthquakes struck both in 1803 and 1812.
Most of the current mission was rebuilt in 1931; at that time only one wall of the mission remained, and the rest was a ruin. The mission has a self-guided tour, where you can walk through the priest’s quarters, the church, the garden and a smaller chapel. The tour was interesting, as there are several informational signs detailing what life was like for the priests and the Native Americans living at the Mission. It is an active Catholic parish, so if you want to go inside the chapel, you do need to time your visit so that it is not during Mass. Or, alternatively, you can attend Mass and experience it in this beautiful historic church. The Mission San Diego de Alcala is designated as a Basilica, or a church of historic significance.
The garden was beautiful, with lots of blooming flowers, including several interesting colors of Bougainvillea. The mission also has two historic bells in the bell tower with a description of the history of the bell. I love reading about the little details of a place. The three small bells on top are copies of originals. The large bell on the bottom left (in my photo taken from the garden) is an 1894 recasting of the original Mater de la Rossa bell. It is the largest of the two larger bells, weighing 1200 pounds! The bottom bell on the right is from 1802, and weighs 805 pounds. It is amazingly intricate with a crown motif on the top. The cross at the top of the bell tower is made from timbers from the original Mission.
In the garden there is an area with the stations of the cross, and interestingly they have an abstract representation taking center stage. If you aren’t familiar with the stations of the cross, they are:
- One: Jesus is Sentenced to Death
- Two: Jesus Takes His Cross
- Three: Jesus Falls
- Four: Jesus Meets Mary, His Mother
- Five: Jesus is Helped by Simon
- Six: Veronica Helps Jesus
- Seven: Jesus Falls a Second Time
- Eight: Jesus Talks to Some Mothers
- Nine: Jesus Falls for the Third and Last Time
- Ten: Jesus is Stripped
- Eleven: Jesus is Nailed to the Cross
- Twelve: Jesus Dies on the Cross
- Thirteen: Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
- Fourteen: Jesus is Laid in the Tomb
Off the courtyard is a small chapel (La Capilla), with the altar and choir stalls that were brought over from a 17th century Spanish convent. They were amazing. The stone floor in La Capilla came from Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City.
The Mission San Diego de Alcala was beautiful and it was certainly worth a visit to see this historic site. And it brings my total of California Missions up to 6. I still have so many more to see!