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Saturday, July 7, 2018

Historic Mission San Diego de Alcala

One of the places I had a few memories of from my youth in San Diego was the church where I received my First Holy Communion.  Mission San Diego de Alcala was founded in 1769 and was the first of the Franciscan missions in California.  Now it is a National Historic Landmark and open to visitors though it is also still an active church.  My mom wanted to go to mass, but I was happy just to arrive early and take as many photographs of the grounds as I could.

Saint Serra statue on left - Mission constructed of Adobe bricks covered in mud plaster
 Cross at top made from original timbers

I feel some background history of this Mission is necessary here, bear with me and feel free to skip around!

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo was an explorer commissioned by the monarch of Spain who arrived in San Diego Bay in 1542.  According to the Spanish tradition he named it San Miguel, after the saint whose feast day was closest to the landing. In 1602 Sebastian Viscaino, leading another Spanish expedition, entered the harbor and renamed it San Diego after Saint Didacus of Alcalá whose feast day was closest to the landing. 

Look at that ceiling!

From the Mission's website: After two centuries in Baja California the Spaniards knew that while soldiers might defend the country against foreign enemies, they could not transform the indigenous people of Alta California into loyal subjects.  The Californias were the most unattractive territory to the ambitious, success-seeking colonists of the New Spain and therefore Saint Junipero Serra and the Franciscan Padres were sent to undertake the conversion to Christianity of all the Indians living in Alta California, and to secure these converts as loyal subjects of the Spanish Crown.

High windows to reduce vulnerbility to attack.  Believe it or not, I remember that light...

The military, who accompanied the Friars, would protect and support them. Father Junipero Serra was chosen Superior of the Franciscan missionaries and Gaspar de Portolá, Governor of Baja California, was designated the leader in charge of the expeditions.  Five expeditions were dispatched from New Spain (Mexico) - three ships, the San Carlos, the San Antonio and the San Jose and two land expeditions. One of the ships was lost at sea, the land expeditions were slightly more successful in terms of casualties but just as difficult, leading mules and horses and carrying food, farming tools and seeds. The total casualties of the expeditions were high. According to a letter written by Father Serra and dated July 3, 1769, "The San Carlos is without sailors, for all have died of scurvy, save one and a cook."  Of the 219 who comprised the first four expeditions, slightly more than half survived.

Formal garden - Adobe cross at bottom right to commemorate Native Americans who died

From 1769 to 1774, only 116 Indians had been baptized... According to Father Francisco Palou's report ... 800 American Indians stormed onto the grounds about midnight on November 4, 1775. They pillaged the mission, burned it to the ground and massacred a blacksmith, a carpenter, and Father Jayme, who became California's first Catholic Martyr. He is buried next to the altar in the present church.  Survivors of the night long attack were one corporal and three Leather Jacket soldiers, one blacksmith, two children who were the son and nephew of the Presidio commandant, and Associate Pastor Father Vicente Fuster.

Wishing well presided over by St. Francis

In 1776, Father Serra returned to Mission San Diego de Alcalá to oversee the rebuilding of the mission. Fearing there would be further attacks, the padres rebuilt the mission within a 150 feet quadrangle, with adobe walls 9 feet in height, including 3 or 4 defensive structures of a military type, called ravelins. Reestablishing the mission was a long, difficult process. This mission was always one of the poorest. The land was difficult to till, the water scarce. Slowly, Mission San Diego de Alcalá became more productive. 

First Communion, 1975 - Statue of St. Joseph, patron saint of Father Serra's expedition

The mission land area encompassed about 55,000 acres, harvesting corn, wheat, barley, kidney beans and chick peas; vineyards produced enough grapes for wine and gardens yielded vegetables. Sometime after 1803, following a two-year drought, the mission Padres and Diegueno Indians built a dam across the San Diego River bed, about 224 feet long, 13 feet wide, and 12 feet high, approximately five miles east of the mission. From the dam, an aqueduct was constructed. It consisted of tiles, resting on cobblestones in cement, and carried by gravity flow a stream one foot deep and two feet wide to mission lands. It was built through the north side of a dangerously steep gorge, impassable on horseback.  The 1814 mission year-end report stated that about 3 1/2 miles of the aqueduct had been completed. It is believed that by 1817 the work was completed. By 1825 the mission owned 19,420 sheep, 184 goats, 8,120 cattle, 565 horses and 115 mules. These are amazing achievements considering that the area was arid chaparral with no livestock or large scale farming until the Spanish arrived.

Saint Bernardine Chapel in Quadrangle

In 1848, after the Mexican American War, the United States Army occupied the mission grounds until 1858. The Army made numerous modifications on the mission grounds, including the conversion of the church into a two-story building, and the establishment of a military cemetery. On May 23, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a proclamation returning to the Catholic Church approximately 22 acres of land, formerly utilized by Mission San Diego de Alcalá and the Dieguenos. Following the Army occupation, the mission fell into ruin, and remained abandoned until 1891 when Father Antonio Dominic Ubach and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet moved the Saint Anthony's Industrial School for Indian children from Old Town San Diego to the mission grounds.

hummingbirds circled the blossoms

This is the fifth church on this site. The church was enlarged over the years to accommodate the growing population of neophytes (baptized American Indians). In 1812, as the fourth church was being built, a devastating earthquake damaged and destroyed several other missions and although it was spared, a decision was made to add buttress wings to secure the facade. 

After detailed historical research, in 1931 the Mission was rebuilt to what architects J. E. Loveless and J. Marshall Miller determined was what the 1813 church must have looked. Today it is an active Catholic parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, and every year is visited by thousands of fourth graders from throughout the state studying California history.

Notice the crown on the bell at bottom right of Campanario

One of the bells is original - it is one of the larger bells and it is distinguishable because it has a conan or crown on top of it and is dated 1802. When the King of Spain wanted bells forged for the missions, he required that they have a crown. The other large bell is made up of remnants from the original bells. The middle two bells are crown bells and all five bells are rung in unison only once a year and that is on the birthday of the mission. The large bell on the bottom (non-crown) is rung twice a day (at noon and at six) and before every Mass on Sunday. Bells were extremely important in mission days; they were used as clocks signifying when it was time to eat, pray, work or play. Different tones and sequencing were also significant.

And what do I remember? Believe it or not I have a memory of attending catechism class and the priest was taking apart a prayer to make sure we understood the meaning.  I think it was the Our Father, but what made the impression was the dissecting of the words and their meanings.  Not surprising, considering my love of language! I remember he was writing on one of those old standing chalkboards, I wonder if I had gone into the room labeled la escuela when we walked around if it would have still been there...

Hand carved replicas of original doors

And true to my promise the other day, here's a link to a news story that I came across yesterday from the Associated Press regarding the U.S. Army now discharging immigrant recruits in the name of "security". 

While on their website I also stumbled across an interesting post in their Fact Check section called "Not Real News: What Didn't Happen This Week" that points out actual fake news circulating on social media.  Someone needs to make it a regular thing and circulate that on social media often!

1 comment:

  1. Love the mission. Next time I'm in the area, I'm going to visit the church.