Contemplating at the Franciscan Mission San Diego de Alcalà


There is a lot to explore in a city like San Diego, Southern California. And lately I have had the opportunity to see many places and experience new adventures in this big city.

One of my discoveries is the Franciscan Mission San Diego de Alcalà. It’s situated just in the middle of the city not far away from the stadium and on the way where I have been a few times for yoga lessons (btw: I found out that I like yoga a lot).


Being a guests of native San Diegan friends has many advantages. They know where to bring me and what really interests me and the time I need to explore. That happened one super sunny morning when I had the opportunity to see the mission.


Historically the Franciscan mission was the very first one in the area and was founded in July 1769 by the Spanish friar Junipero Serra on the ground of the Kumeyaay, Indian natives of South and Baja California. Unfortunately the mission is also known for its first public execution after father Luis Jaime was murdered by a revolt of Indian natives in 1778.

The mission today is a national historic landmark and the fifth on this location. Here historically starts also ‘El Camino Real’, a nearly 600 miles/970 kilometers long road along the Californian coast connecting 21 Spanish missions up to Sonoma, north to San Francisco. The road is signed by hanging bells I could notice in many places in San Diego and along the Californian coast.


Around 1769 an expedition was sent to found missions and presidios at San Diego and Monterey. Junipero Serra was amongst them. This way the Spanish wanted to secure their claim along the Pacific coast.

The start of the foundation was not really under a good sign. It was continuously attacked by the Kumeyaay as they saw the Spanish missionaries as intruders. Arriving in extremis the few still remaining members of the mission wanted to leave when supply ships finally arrived on the 19th March and they could start to fortify the mission. Years later in 1774 the mission was relocated to its present location and is now near to the San Diego river.

In November 1774 there was a massive revolt of at least 15 villages and father Luis Jaime lost his life together with a carpenter and a blacksmith. The buildings were burned down and no records survived. One of the leaders of the assault repented and sought refuge in the jacal. As being a holy place for both, natives and Christians, he thought himself secure but he was removed from the house and should have been executed with three other leaders. But there is no record if this first public execution really ever took place.


In the mid 19th century the mission was offered for sale as the “Decree of Confiscation” closed the missions. But none offered enough money so the properties were given to ex-military officers. The mission was used by the military from 1846 to 1862 when it was given back to the Roman Catholic Church by Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation. Father Anthony Ubach restored the old buildings until his death and today it’s a minor basilica.


The parish church is still active today, can be visited and has a gift shop.

The impressive bell tower has five bells. The bells were once very important for notifying people in the land when it’s mealtime, someone died, a ship coming into the port, for religious services and many other reasons.


I was in the mission one late morning. The mission can be entered by the gift shop where one pays a fee and can find some religious souvenirs.

From the gift shop I entered into the courtyard with a beautiful well in the middle, surrounded by trees and flowers. A wonderful place where to sit in the shade and contemplate the day.


From here I go into the little church which is simple though very beautifully decorated, with a wooden ceiling covered with green paintings.

Leaving the church on the other side I arrive in the garden where the bell tower is situated. In between the many flowers and greens are some saints statues, water flowing in wells and it gives an enormous sense of peace.

The bell tower is 46 feet high, has five bells of different seizes. A sequence of rhythms and tones was developed during the centuries to indicate the different announcements. Time for mass, meals or work, to indicate danger or death or even to celebrate a feast and calling people to come to church for the joyful event. I know church bells ringing the time of the day in Italy, don’t know if they do the same here.


The last place I enter is a little museum where I can find some old books, spectacles and other things used during the centuries in the mission.

I enjoyed my morning exploring the San Diego mission and also the time I spent in the courtyard to contemplate about my happy stay here in San Diego.


San Diego, California/USA:

For further information:
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalà
10818 San Diego Mission Rd
San Diego, CA 92108


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