16 July 2011

16 July - Mission San Diego

Mission San Diego de Acala in 1848.  Source

Today in 1769, Father Junipero Serra celebrated Mass at a site chosen for the first mission church in Alta California.  It looked like a promising place, situated on the banks of a river with a Yuman village nearby, overlooking the bay which the explorer Vizcaino had named San Diego de Acala in 1602 in honor of Saint Didacus.

A promising start, and it went downhill from there.  The soil was thin, the water necessary for crops was either too much or not enough, the local Indians were understandably leery of these people who had arrived in a weakened condition and the illnesses they could be bringing, and the soldiers at the nearby presidio, while affording some protection for the mission, caused innumerable problems with their treatment of the natives.  The supplies needed to maintain both mission and garrison until they could be self-sufficient were not forthcoming, and it looked as if the settlement would have to be abandoned.

Supplies arrived to keep the mission going, but the other problems remained.  In 1774, Father Jaime, in charge during Father Serra's absence, moved Mission San Diego inland about six miles.  There the natives seemed more receptive, the land looked easier to work, the water situation could be regulated, and the soldiers, close enough for emergencies, were too far away to be a daily nuisance. Surviving uprisings, earthquakes, and land which remained poor, the mission provided spiritual comfort and training in agricultural and domestic arts to the native population until 1834 when all of the missions were secularized by order of the Mexican government.

You can find a short history of the mission at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Acala website, and photos here.  A visual tour is available here at A Virtual Tour of the California Missions.

Saint Didacus of Alcala (c1400 - 1463) was born of humble parents near Seville in Spain.  He evinced a desire for the spiritual life and studied scripture and devotional exercises with a local hermit before joining the Franciscans as a lay brother at Arrizafa, near Cordoba.

His success as a missionary to the Canary Islands led to his being chosen as the guardian of the Franciscan community on Fuerteventura, a responsibility unusual for lay brothers.  In 1450, he went to Rome to attend the canonization of Bernardine of Siena, and stayed at the monastery of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, where he took charge of the infirmary.  Several miracles, including despaired-of cures, were credited to him there and at the infirmary of the University of Alcala, where he served until his death in 1463.  His feast day is November 12 (November 13 in the traditional calendar).

For those interested in the California Missions, there are several good books, some of which are listed on the Virtual Tour of the California Missions site or can be ordered through the Mission San Diego giftshop.

My personal favorites are found at Bellerophon Books, like the two seen here: Saints of the California Missions (right) and California Missions: The Earliest Series of Views Made in 1856 (above).  The second named is based on the travel journal and drawings of Henry Miller, who wrote of Mission San Diego: "...I went to the Mission, which lies in an easterly direction from here, about six miles distant, on the end of a fine valley full of pasture... The mission buildings have lost their ancient appearance, having been renovated by the government, and serve now as the quarters of United States troops."

Of the town of San Diego, he had this to say: "This town is only three miles from the boundary line and had a considerable trade formerly.  It has about 2,500 inhabitants, who seem to get poorer every day... On the 21st of September I left this town, offering no attractions, well contented to leave behind me the dreary bay, without shipping, and the sluggish natives and Mexicans, living in contented misery."  However, he added, "At some future time San Diego cannot fail to become a place of great importance..." and in spite of the 'dreary' bay and 'contented misery', it has.