Californian Mission: San Diego de Alcala (1)

During my visits to California I have become interested obsessed with the Californian Missions. I have previously written about one mission in San Francisco – Mission Dolores – but want to tell you about a few of the other 21 missions I have managed to get to beginning with the first mission in San Diego. I enjoy visiting them because they represent a vibrant chapter of California’s past, they are tranquil spaces, often in large conurbations and often combine my love of architecture and gardens.

They are all located on or near to Highway 101 which roughly traces El Camino Real (The Royal Road) named in honour of the Spanish monarchy which financed the expeditions into California. The first section was made between San Diego and Monterey Bay by General Gaspar de Portola and this route was then used by missionaries, settlers and soldiers as  it was the only road between the few civilized outposts. The road was identified with the missions because the padres maintained the highway and offered hospitality to all who travelled along it.  When California became a state in 1850 the road served as the north-south stagecoach route. In  the 1920s bronze mission bells were placed along the highway to let motorists know they were travelling on the historic El Camino Royal. I like the idea of following an historic trail and exploring this once untamed wilderness.

The missions have been reconstructed and renovated after negative effects of time, weather, earthquakes and neglect and most still serve as active Catholic parishes with regular services. Many have booklets for self-guided tours which include the mission buildings and grounds.  If nothing else they serve as an excuse for a few stopovers whilst in California.

The first mission was founded in San Diego in July 16 1769 by Junipero Serra and re-located to Mission Valley, 6 miles north-east of the city in 1774 to be closer to the Indian Villages, a reliable source of water and better agricultural land. The first church was burned down by Indians in 1775 and the padre, Luis Jayme, was killed. The following year Junipero Serra returned and reconstructed the church and mission buildings, this time using adobe to cover the walls and roofs to make them fire resisitant. The church and other buildings are arranged in a quadrangle around a patio. The doors are replicas made of redwood and the carvings are from actual designs on the originals.

(click on an image to enlarge and for more information)

The church was destroyed again by an earthquake in 1803 and rebuilt with a unique buttress-like structure at the front which has withstood further earthquakes. The mission was given to the Mexicans during the Mexican Occupation of California, occupied by the US Cavalry during 1846-1862 and now serves as a parish church for the Catholic community and a cultural centre for all. For more images of the lovely gardens at this mission please visit Earth laughs in Flowers.

(click on an image to enlarge and for more information)

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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

19 thoughts on “Californian Mission: San Diego de Alcala (1)”

  1. I too am fascinated by the missions and was able to stop at the Santa Barbara Mission and Mission Buenaventura in the last several days! So beautiful and such a fascinating history. Lovely photos, Jude. 🙂

    1. I saw your Santa Barbara images on Flickr. Very good! I have one or two outside shots of that mission, but didn’t go inside as there was a mass going on at the time and the rest of the mission was closed. Drove past Buenaventura, I think I was in a hurry to get to LA and get those freeways over with!

      BTW speaking of LA have you visited the Queen Mary at Longbeach? We stayed overnight on board and they have a very nice cocktail lounge and do excellent Sunday Brunch too (starts at 2 pm)

  2. Shot at the perfect time of day Jude, in marvellous light, with all those tricky shadows dealt with exceptionally well. One of my favourites!
    Regards as always, Pete. x

    1. Cheers Pete 🙂
      This visit was on a cloudless day in February and probably around midday so the worst time for taking photographs, especially of flowers, but I must admit I did like the shadows 😀

    1. Thanks Karen. That image is quite foreshortened and I waited patiently (!) to get a shot without anyone stepping in front of it. It is a very beautiful place.

  3. Ah yes, Highway 101! Have travelled along there just a few times, up and down! We lived just off it in San Luis Obispo county 🙂 Loved the history lesson and the photos Jude, as you knew I would! Took me right back, do love those missions 🙂 x

    1. You lived in a lovely area Sherri. And what a location for Mission visiting! Did you ever get over to the Channel Islands?

      1. Yes, it was a lovely place to live and to raise a young family. It certainly helped when it came time for all those Mission projects!!
        No, not the Channel Islands yet, but still hope to this year 🙂

  4. Love the white washed walls and the serenity that is so obvious in your post.

    1. I have been fortunate with my visits to the missions in that they have been very quiet – even when a school group has been there at the same time, I just wait until they leave. I always stay longer than anyone else 😀

  5. That’s a good word, conurbation. I don’t know if I’ve seen it before, but it’s easily understandable. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says the earliest known use of the term is from 1915, almost a century ago now.

    1. I think of it as those vast sprawling suburbs like you get around London and LA, San Fran where you just drive through one to another without any distinction between them. I like green spaces. Couldn’t live in a city now.

      1. What you describe is what I grew up with on Long Island (New York) after World War II: there was no separation at all between my town and the others surrounding it. In my early years there were still a few vestiges of the farms and woods and fields that had previously covered the land, and even a few lots still vacant in my neighborhood, but all those things gradually disappeared as I grew up. Times that were and are no more.

  6. I remember standing on the quay looking up at the Queen Mary, long ago, but we were en route for somewhere (maybe Santa Catalina Island) and didn’t have time to go aboard. This is totally irrelevant, isn’t it, Jude, and I would better have used the time at this mission. It looks so tranquil and beautiful in your lovely photos. 🙂

    1. I would love to get out to those islands off the coast of California. I didn’t even know they existed until a year or so ago!

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