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Dee Callahan Art Blog

Basilica San Diego de Alcala

by decal5 , April 1, 2011—12:00 AM

Topics: California, Catholic, Family, Heritage, Spanish, beauty, discovery, expeditions, fears, missions, monarch, native american

Basilica San Diego de Alcala, Founded by Father Junipero Serra on July 16,1769 has a special designation, being known as " The Mother of the Alta, California Missions". It was the first of the 21 California missions founded. It was named after the "Patron Saint";Saint Didacus of Alcala, Spain, a 15th century Spanish Francisan,and was secularized in 1834. It's current status is active Roman Catholic; Church of the Diocese of San Diego, after being returned to the Catholic Church in 1862. This beautiful mission also has a special place in my heart as it is my family heritage,on my father's side; Mr. Martin Alcala, first born son of Maria and Santiago Alcala.

San Diego de Alcala Mission marks the birthplace of Christianity in the far west. It is a remarkable and a significant historical shrine. It helps us to understand the beginning of Catholism in a different part of the world,far from the " Mother Country" of Spain.

Today even though this is an active Cathlic parish church, it is also a cultural center for people of all faiths, who are always welcome to visit. If you do happen to go there you will find well manicured grounds, beautiful serene gardens, countless statues, a fascinating Bell Tower, and more history than you can imagine. There is a Museum containing history and artifacts, and you will be able to visit the Pardes living quarters and see some of the reality of just how they lived. If you ever get the chance, it is well worth reliving the grandeur of more than two centuries of California history and tradtion.

For 167 years Alta, California was uninhabited by any white men. There were Native American Indians there,but no white men. In 1769 Spain, fearing Russian intrusion sent four expeditions, two by land and two by sea to secure the entire Northwest coast which Cabrillo had laid claim to in 1542. Captain Gaspar de Portola, who was later appointed governor of the territory was the head of both the land and sea expeditions. There were many hard times and many on the ships died of scurvy, but in June of 1769, de Portola landed and made plans to construct a permanent camp. On July 1st, of 1769 Frey ( Father) Junipero Serra of Mallorca, who had also traveled from Spain, reached San Diego 2 days after Captain de Portola. Upon Serra reaching San Diego, de Portola set out on another expedition to locate Monterey, the object of his expedition. Serra and two other Padres, Juan Viscaino, and Fernando Parron began immediate preparations to establish the First California Mission. Serra had been named the Father Superior.

The site that was chosen was one that was a point overlooking San Diego Bay, near the Indian Village of Cosoy. They built brush huts and temporary shelters, and on July 16, 1769 Serra raised a cross, said mass at the site that was chosen for the Chapel,and San Diego de Alcala Mission was formally founded; making it the First Mission in Alta , California, and the " Mother" of the great Caliornia missions. It is interesting to note that the name San Diego de Alcala was given to the mission because of the locality and also interesting because that locality was re-named back in November,1602 by Captain Sebastian Viscaino upon his arrival from new Spain. He was on an expedtion that came under the orders of the Spanish Monarch to search the northwest coast of California for a passage to the Atlantic ocean.

There is some irony in the fact that one of Serra's founding padres was also named Viscaino, 167 years later. It is also ironic that Captain Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo originally entered the harbor of San Diego on September 28, 1542 and named it "San Miquel" because it was on that Saint's Day; however since the land lay untouched for nearly 60 years after, until Captain Sebastian Viscaino arrived in search of pearls and to survey the land on November 10, 1602. the name was changed. Viscaino and his chaplain, and a small party went ashore 2 days after arrival by ship and celebrated Mass in honor of Saint Didacus of Alcala, Spain whose feast day was the following day. Today,there is a different Mission with the name San Miquel, and it is in the San Luis Obispo area of California.It is called San Miquel Arcaangel and was founded on July 25, 1797. ( one of the last six)

There is so much history to our families name, that I cannot possibly tell about all of it here, but from time to time I will be writing more about this Mission and many of the other 21 California missions founded between 1769- 1823. Here are a few facts about this mission and also the name Alcala. The first location of this mission was not it's current site. It was originally founded on Presidio Hill, above "Old Town", but was relocated in 1774 in order to be nearer the American Indian ( Kumeyaay) Villages, a reliable source of water and good land for farming. In 1775, just one year after the first Adobe church was completed, the mission was attacked by the Yumas Indians, local indians who were more aggressive and warlike than their relatively peaceful neighbors to the north. The tinder-dry buildings were burnt to the ground. Padre Luis Jayme was killed in the attack after refusing to run. He walked right into a band of local indians that were not ready to be converted and they Martyred him. He was only 35 at the time. He is buried in the Mission San Diego de Alcala sanctuary. In 1776 Serra came back to the gutted site to restore the mission, the church and the buildings. This time they built an outer defense wall around the complex to protect all in the event of future attacks. By 1790 most of the mission's reconstruction was completed. The church and the other buildings were arranged in a quadrangle around a courtyard, a very popular Spanish design, even today!

In 1797, 565 Indians received baptism which brought the number of converts to 1405. The land grew to 55,000 acres. There were vineyards, orchards and vegetable gardens abound. The mission thrived with wheat, barley, corn and beans, that were harvested and also the mainstays of daily life at the mission. The Mission also owned thousands of sheep, cattle and 1250 horses. During the 1813 construction to enlarge the church, buttress wings were added to provide stability from Earthquakes!This also helped to provide a more welcoming appearance. In 1821 when Mexico gained it's independence, and after the U.S. Mexican War and the signing of the Treaty of Hidalgo in 1848, the U.S. Calvary also used the mission as a military base from 1850-1857. Soldiers made repairs to make the mission inhabitable, and finally in 1862, the mission was restored to the church by order of President Abraham Lincoln. The present day church was named a minor Basilica by Pope Paul VI in the bicentennial year of 1976. The name Alcala is translated to "Castle" in Spanish. It is Castillian. Alcala, Spain has been the seat of a University and also a center of learning for literally centuries. Fot this reason, the University of San Diego, the Catholic University of the West, is located in an area now known as Alcala Park.





04/16/2011 * 20:31:42

Wow Dee
You make such a great historian! I always enjoy reading your blogs. Great stuff.Take care.


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