1. When was this Mission founded?
It was founded on July 16, 1769 by Father Junipero Serra.
2. Was this the first mission in the chain of 21?
It was the first mission in the chain of 21 that were founded in Alta or Upper California but a mission was founded in Baja or Lower California at San Fernando de Velicata as part of the expedition to establish the Alta California missions. It was established on May 14, 1769.
3. Is this the original church?
This is the fifth church on this site. The church was enlarged over the years to accommodate the growing population of neophytes (baptized American Indians). In 1812, as the fourth church was being built, a devastating earthquake damaged and destroyed several other missions and although we were spared, a decision was made to add buttress wings to secure the facade. In 1976, Mission San Diego de Alcala was named a basilica. A basilica is a church of very important historical significance. It is an honor bestowed upon a church by the Pope. Only four of the California missions are basilicas: Mission San Francisco de Asis (Dolores), Mission San Carlos Borromeo, Mission San Diego and most recently, Mission San Juan Capistrano.
4. Do Franciscan priests still live here?
Mission San Diego is part of the Diocese of San Diego and is staffed by secular priests. Four of the missions are still run by Franciscans: Santa Barbara, San Miguel, San Antonio de Padua and San Luis Rey. Santa Inez is run by Franciscan Capuchins. Two missions are now part of state run museums: Purisima Conception and Sonoma.
5. Are the bells original?
One of the bells is original - it is one of the larger bells and it is distinguishable because it has a conan or crown on top of it and is dated 1802. When the King of Spain wanted bells forged for the missions, he required that they have a crown. The other large bell is made up of remnants from the original bells. The middle two bells are crown bells and all five bells are rung in unison only once a year and that is on the birthday of the mission. The large bell on the bottom (non-crown) is rung twice a day (at noon and at six) and before every Mass on Sunday. Bells were extremely important in mission days; they were used as clocks signifying when it was time to eat, pray, work or play. Different tones and sequencing were also significant.
6. What is El Camino Real?
El Camino Real is the King's Highway. In Alta California, it begins in San Diego and ends 600 miles north at Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma. The missions were built to be one day's walk apart.
7. What is the name of the Native Americans who lived in this area?
They are commonly referred to as Kumeyaay, although at various times they are called Mission Indians or Diegueno (taking the name from the mission). The Kumeyaay were hunters and gatherers, had no strong sense of ownership and were fairly nomadic moving from mountains to coast as the seasons changed.
The Kumeyaay had never seen cloth before the Spanish arrived; their garments were made from plant products.
8. Were the Native Americans forced to live at this mission?
Although some texts in the schools make that claim, all primary source material (documents) and archaeological findings indicate otherwise. Mission San Diego was so poor that when Father Lasuen was pastor in 1775, he had to devise a rotating system whereby half of the Native Americans could live on the grounds and the others would remain in their native villages and they would periodically rotate. This would indicate that they were able to freely go back and forth from village to mission.