As the sign will promptly tell you California’s first mission was established by Father Juan Junipero Sierra on July 16, 1769. Although, to truly understand this mission you have to go back to 1542. This was when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo (you can read more about our Cabrillo trip HERE) first discovered San Diego Bay (then named San Miguel) and claimed it for Spain. It wouldn’t be until 1602, when Sebastian Viscaino came into the bay would it be named San Diego, after Saint Didicaus of Alcala (we we learn about him soon). If you notice that was a 60 year gap. Russia noticed this gap and slowly started making their way down from the North of California. About a hundred and sixty years later Spain started to notice and thus was born the California Mission System.
The first mission site was located in the Presidio area (about where the Mormon Battalion Centeris now). After Father Sierra left to go establish the other missions the remaining Fathers didn’t like the location because it was too close to the military and so they moved it 5 years later. This would initially prove to be disastrous for two reasons.
The first reason was it was that the new site was too close to existing Native American settlements which angered them into a riot that left one missionaries dead. The second reason was they were so far away from the Presidio (also known as fort) that the Spanish army had no idea about the riot until they saw the smoke from the burning mission walls.
Eventually, the army along with Father Sierra found out about the disaster, reconquered the area, and rebuilt the mission. The mission however would remain as one of the poorest missions in the entire chain. The land around the mission site is very arid and as mentioned before the locals were not really motivated to help the Fathers make it much better. The location of the mission however was crucial and so the Spanish made sure that this mission survived (until of course they got kicked out by the Americans).
Now completely restored the San Diego Mission is a beautiful structure steeped in historical significance. For a few dollars and a few hours you can stroll through it’s immaculately kept up grounds. When we were there there was a funeral going on and so we didn’t get to stay long in the chapel, but we were able to spend plenty of time everywhere else.
One of the things I found particularly interesting was the story of San Diego. San Diego is known in English as Saint Didacus. He was born in Andalusia, Spain in 1400, joined the Catholic priesthood, and became a really good infirmarian until he died in 1463. I mention the date because in 1562, Carlos, then son of King Felipe II of Spain got injured and went into a coma. Not knowing what to do, the surgeon in charge of Carlos decided to dig up Didacus (whom had been dead for 99 years) and put him in bed with Carlos. Carlos miraculously wakes up (I would too if someone put a 99 year old body next to me) and the King is so overjoyed he petitions Rome to make him a saint. Creepy, miraculous, and crazy all at the same time. I believe it just because I couldn’t make up a story like that if I tried.
Well, besides miracle stories there are many more things to see at the museum. Some of my favorites was seeing where the Fathers slept (talk about stiff beds!) and the Native American baskets.