Monday, November 29, 2010

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala: The "Mother of the Missions"

To take advantage of one of those rare days this year that Gil was able to take a vacation day that happened to coincide with mine, we decided to head down south to San Diego (about an hour's drive from Murrieta) to visit a couple of the California Missions. I've said this before, but I'm determined to see all 21 of California's missions sometime in my lifetime. 

First stop: Mission San Diego de Alcala, aka the "Mother of the Missions."

Parking lot at entrance off of San Diego Mission Road.



Mission San Diego is California's first mission (and, therefore, first church) and was founded by Father Junipero Serra on July 16, 1769. In 1774, the mission and the Spanish presidio (i.e., a military fort) were relocated from an area above Old Town San Diego to its present site, which had better land for farming, a more reliable source of water, and was also closer to the native Kumeyaay villages. 

I can't summarize it better than the brochure we got from the gift shop, so I'll excerpt it here:

"In 1775 , just one year after the first adobe church was completed, the mission was attacked by Indians who destroyed it by burning the dry tinder buildings to the ground. Padre Luis Jayme was killed in this attack when he tried to calm the Indians. Padre Jayme became the first Christian martyr in California and is buried in the Mission Sanctuary. Padre Serra returned to the gutted site in 1776 and began to restore the church and mission buildings...The year 1797 opened another chapter in the growth of the San Diego Mission. Five hundred and sixty-five Indians received baptism which brought the number of converts to 1,405. The land area grew to 55,000 acres. Vineyards, orchards, and vegetable gardens began to thrive and wheat, barley, corn and beans were harvested. It is recorded that the mission owned 2o,000 sheep, 1o,000 cattle, and 1,25o horses. In 1821, when Mexico gained its independence [from Spain], Mission San Diego was given over to Santiago Arguello. After the U.S.-Mexican War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the U.S. Cavalry used the mission as a military presence from 1850-1857. The soldiers made some temporary repairs to the decayed buildings in order to make them habitable. In 1862, the Mission lands were restored to the Church by order of President Abraham Lincoln...The present mission was named a minor basilica by Pope Paul VI in the bicentennial year of 1976. Today, it serves as an active parish for the Catholic community..."

Additional notes: The mission became a school for Native American children in 1892 and the current church was rebuilt in 1931 to the resemble the mission church of 1813. 

Campanario (bell tower).


St. Didacus (San Diego).

Bed of assorted Agaves (mostly from Mexico) in front of the church, including Agave americana, i.e., 'Maguey' (large specimen in the foreground), and Agave attenuata.

La Capilla (The Chapel).

La Capilla (The Chapel).

Inside of La Capilla (The Chapel). Dating back to the 1300s, the throne and altar came from a Carmelite monastery in Plasencia, Spain.

The Chapel's choir stalls.

Small courtyard next to La Capilla. 

The ubiquitous Silk Oak (Grevillea robusta). This one's huge, like the one we saw at Mission San Juan Capistrano, but I wasn't able to get a good shot of the canopy.

View towards church from La Capilla (courtyard area next to museum).

Garden (courtyard behind the church).


Roses in the Garden.

St. Francis of Assisi fountain/wishing well (Garden).

St. Joseph statue (Garden).

Garden (just outside church).

La Sacristia (from the Garden). 



Bird of Paradise and Bougainvillea, St. Anthony Garden.

Bougainvillea and African tree aloe (Garden).

Gil, contemplating in the Garden.

Fray Junipero Serra statue (Garden).

Fray Junipero Serra statue (Garden).


Don't know for sure, but this big guy looks like a Canary Island Date Palm (Phoenix canariensis) to me.

Moss and ivy, growing over the large stump of a base of the Canary Island Date Palm (?)

Campanario (bell tower), as seen from behind in the Garden. 

Campanario (as seen from the Garden).

Fr. Jayme Museum.

Fr. Jayme Museum.

Example of an 'Ewaa hut used by the Kumeyaay.

Archaeological site (Convento Wing excavation project).

There were a series of these informational plaques along the excavation site, and this was my fav of the bunch...

Those signature El Camino Real bells, looking strangely out-of-place along that uber modern driveway.

Our next stop & my next post: Mission San Luis Rey de Francia - i.e., the 'King of the Missions.' 


  1. Wow, great photos! Wonder whether I'll make it that far down -- I tend to visit the missions casually, but you can't help stumbling across them if you live on the CA coast. Always interesting.

  2. Excellent post! I love that you've both made a pact to see all the Missions in California, I think that's fabulous. I honestly haven't visited enough of them, and would love to remedy that. This one seems to have had quite the tumultuous history. I really appreciate that you also take the time to look at the Mission gardens too, as some of them are truly beautiful. I had to chuckle at 55,000 acres and all those sheep and cows. We have a tough time managing just our few acres...can't imagine how large an army was needed to maintain all that!

  3. Town Mouse, I myself used to visit missions casually (been to San Juan Capistrano & Santa Barbara missions a couple times over the past decade). But then, out of the blue, I got a sudden hankering to revisit all those I've been to before and will eventually go the whole nine yards to see all 21 missions. Go figure!

    Clare, the Mission gardens are actually quite fascinating. They are typically in a courtyard/quadrangle setting and often include a mixture of European/Mediterranean plantings, roses, drought tolerants, and some California natives. As for the 55,000 acres of cattle & sheep, the labor that would have been involved in keeping such herds is simply unimaginable. As with you, I too have a pretty hard time managing just a few acres!