San Diego Missions
Established by Spanish missionaries in the 18th century, in an attempt to colonize the California coast, the missions simply sought to convert, educate and civilize the indigenous population. And while their history and presence have generated much controversy and protest over the course of the past 200 years – as noted by Dr. Steven Hackel, associate professor of history at UC Riverside and author of several titles including “Children of Coyote, Missionaries of Saint Francis” and the forthcoming “Father Junipero Serra: California's Founding Father,” their value and character are none-the-less indubitable; the living history of the missions reveal the life and style of olde California, emulating Spanish influences throughout contemporary architecture, art, culture, community, religion and horticulture, to name a few.
“In terms of historical sites, the missions remind us of California's deep roots in Native history as well as Spanish and Mexican culture.” states Hackel, also a board member of the California Missions Foundation. “The missions are of course, controversial, but that controversy is in many ways a testament to the enduring diversity and of California – this is a place that is home to many outlooks, and the missions hold different legacies depending upon who you ask."
Since its inception, the California Mission Foundation – the only organization of its kind – has privately funded a number of necessary projects and campaigns aimed at restoring the missions’ physical structures with respect to their historic integrity and individuality; from seismic retrofits and stabilization, to art conservation, manuscript preservation, landscape revitalization and archaeological research, their efforts are significant and ever evolving.
According to the foundation’s Executive Director, Dr. Knox Mellon, “Of all the institutions that define California’s heritage, none has the historic significance and emotional impact of the chain of Spanish missions that stretch from San Diego to Sonoma. The missions are an important part of the state’s cultural fabric and must be preserved as priceless historic monuments.”
As the landing point for many explorers and settlers to the new world, San Diego is home to two of the 21 missions resting along El Camino Real – or simply, “The King’s Highway.” Old Mission San Luis Rey De Francia and Mission Basilica San Diego de Acala are both registered National Historic Landmarks, as well as within the state of California; the missions are also home to a small parish, sustained by private donations and grants.
The California Missions Foundation
Old Mission San Luis Rey De Francia
4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside
Architecturally significant for its distinctive and quintessential Spanish-Colonial features, Old Mission San Luis Rey was established in 1798 to honor Louis IX, the crusading King of France who was canonized in 1297. Founded as the 18th mission, San Luis Rey is also known as the “King of the Missions,” due in part to its expansive size; once resting on 950,000+ acres, the mission presently occupies 56.
The heritage of San Luis Rey unveils a unique blending of traditions and cultures – ranging from Native Americans and Spanish Missions, to the Mexican Secularization and American Military periods. Despite decades of disrepair and deterioration, the mission’s design and architectural stance has not been significantly altered since its construction; the first major restoration project actually began in 1892 under the leadership of Joseph Jerimaiah O’Keefe. Aside from its size, San Luis Rey is the only mission crowned with a wooden dome and cupola.
Surrounded by the fertile soils of the valley, mission grounds extend an historic cemetery and nearby lavanderia – one of the only remaining open-air Native American laundry and bathing structures in North America. Discovered in 1955 by student archeologists, the site uncovered tile and stone pools, featuring gargoyle fountains that once employed a water conservation system on-par with modern-day terms. A fruit orchard still remains, along with California’s first pepper tree, planted in 1830.
The California Missions Foundation recently presented the mission with two checks through generous grants - one for $20,000 from the Linden Root Dickinson Foundation and another for $35,000 through the Hearst Foundation. These monies are designated as a match toward the $640,000 ‘Save America Treasures’ grant the mission received from the National Parks Service to help initiate the mandatory seismic retrofit of the historic mission church; the capital campaign to raise the funds continues. Additional restoration projects of note include: preserving mission artwork, paintings and statues; renovating historic archways; and reviving century-old gardens.
Recently premiering on KOCT, “San Luis Rey: Origins of a Community” – a documentary supported by the collaborative efforts between KOCT, the City of Oceanside and the Mission Museum – discusses in length the history and early development of the mission, along with its significance and impact on present day North County. The documentary is available at the mission museum and online, at www.koct.org.
Mission Basilica San Diego de Acala
10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego
Marked as the first mission in Alta California, and considered by many as the “Mother of the Missions,” Mission Basilica San Diego de Acala was founded in 1769 by Spanish friar Junipero Serra; and nearly 207 years later was designated as a Minor Basilica by Pope Paul VI. Once encompassing 50,000 acres of horticulture, the current structure is the fifth church on the site as a result of fires, earthquakes and misuse; however, the original location of the mission was first established six miles west, overlooking the bay. The mission and surrounding area were named for Saint Didacus, a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego.
The first seeds of agriculture were planted at Mission San Diego, which laid the foundations for agriculture in California. But surprisingly, from its beginnings, the mission was the poorest and most vulnerable; after an attack by the natives in 1775, it took the mission nearly 25 years to regain its footing and sustainability. When homes were being built in Old Town, it was common practice to take materials from the abandoned mission to be used in constructing the homes.
Restorations in 1931 rebuilt the current mission structure, replicating the style of the original 1813 church; and in hosting California’s first historic cemetery, the gardens contain centuries-old hibiscus, succulents, olive tress, citrus and avocado. With continued awareness about the mission’s history and impact being generated, projects funded by the California Missions Foundation have included seismic retrofits and structure repairs, as well as an archeological study of the Convento.
Festival of the Bells
Honoring the heritage of Mission San Diego as the “Mother of the Missions,” Festival of the Bells is an annual celebration commemorating the traditions and communal spirit the mission first established when founded. The fiesta features authentic food, entertainment and dance, as well as the ringing of the bells. Web: festivalofbells.com