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Home Page Button   Beginnings of the Mission
Teacher Information Button   Mission San Diego was the first of the Missions to be built in Alta California. The Mission site was dedicated by Father Junipero Serra on July 1, 1769. Father Serra named the Mission for Saint Didacus of Alcala. When the ships reached the harbor many of them were sick. Over 200 men had attempted the journey and less than half made it to San Diego.
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Sources Button   Location and Geography
Bibliography History Button   Father Serra’s original site was on top of a hill 5 miles from the edge of San Diego Bay. The Mission was moved 5 years later to its current location. The soldiers lived in a presidio that had been built close by. Too close it turned out--the head Lieutenant, Pedro Fages, wanted the Fathers to run things according to the way that he wanted them. It was decided to move the Mission a mile further inland from the bay to get away from the soldiers and to be closer to a river to make it easier to get water. The old Mission buildings were used by the soldiers for their presidio.

Top of Page Button   The Native Americans
    The main tribe in the area around Mission San Diego was the Kumeyaay. The Spanish Fathers named them the Diegueño. Like most of the other tribes in California, the Chumash were nomadic. That means that they lived in one area for a time and would move their entire community to follow herds for food or when too much garbage piled up they would burn down the old ones and find another site to build their homes. Men hunted and fished to provide food while the women gathered acorns, wild herbs, roots, and berries to help feed their families. The Kumeyaay were interested in the tools and items the Priests had brought with them, but most of the tribe didn’t trust the people at the Mission.

Top of Page Button   Architecture and Layout
    The Fathers followed a regular plan for creating the layout of the mission buildings. Right after blessing the site the Fathers and the soldiers would start building a small building to hold the religious ceremonies, called a Mass. They encouraged local Natives to help them. Many often did; they were fascinated by the tools and gifts that the Fathers had brought with them. Father Serra begun the Mission with just a small structure made of twigs and brush. By October 1776 a more permanent church had been built. The church seen at the Mission today was built in 1813. After a chapel or church was finished where the Fathers and Neophytes could hold Mass they would start building the Convento. The Convento was where the Fathers would live. Next would come workshops and the Monjerio. The Monjerio was where unmarried girls and women would live and be locked in at night. The Fathers didn’t think that unmarried girls and women should live near single men. Eventually there would be enough buildings for four sides of a square or quadrangle. The Mission complexes weren’t perfect squares because the Fathers didn’t have a way to measure distance other than walking off distances. Most Missions included a fountain. The fountain was used for washing, laundry, and water. The more fancy the fountain the more successful the Mission.

Top of Page Button   Life at the Mission
    Life at the first Mission was very difficult for both the Fathers and the Natives. For the first few years the Mission depended on deliveries of supplies and food from New Spain. Often the ships were unable to make the trip and the Mission’s members went hungry. During the first year things were so bad that Father Serra considered abandoning the Mission. He planned to send the other Mission members back to New Spain, although he was determined to stay there himself, even if it meant that he would die. He didn’t want to give up. On the last day before they planned to leave a ship sailed into San Diego Bay with enough supplies to keep the Mission going. It took several years before the Mission was able to plant enough food and raise enough cattle to be able to feed everyone who lived at the Mission.

Those that lived at the Mission went by a strict schedule. The Fathers were used to this type of lifestyle, but the neophytes were not. The structure of Mission life was one of the reasons many Native Californians tried to leave. A French explorer, Jean François de La Pérouse, visited Mission San Carlos is 1786 and wrote a detailed account of what he observed. Events at the Mission were signaled by the ringing of the Mission bells. Each day started around sunrise (about 6am). The Mission bells would ring to wake everyone and summon them to Mass and morning prayers. Prayer lasted for about an hour and then everyone would go to breakfast. Atole, a type of soup made from barley and other grains, would be served. Breakfast took about 45 minutes and then it was time for everyone to go to work.

The Fathers were responsible for running the Mission and instructing the new converts and children in the Catholic faith. Most of the men went to the fields to tend to the crops or to help with the animals while women stayed at the Mission and worked on domestic chores such as weaving cloth and making clothes, boiling down fat to make soap and candles, and tending to the vegetable gardens. Children often helped at these chores around the Mission once their religious instruction was over. Depending on the particular industry at the Mission there also might be neophytes leatherworking, metalworking, wine making, and pressing olives for olive oil.

At noon the bells would ring again for everyone to gather for dinner, what we would call lunch. Lunch was normally pozole, another thick soup with beans and peas. After an afternoon break everyone returned to their work for another two to four hours depending on how much work there was to be done. A last bell would be rung to end the work day. Another serving of Atole would be served and the neophytes would be able to rest until it was time for bed (Margolin, Pg. 85). Women were usually expected to go to bed by 8pm and men by 9pm. Most of the Fathers allowed their neophytes to continue to hunt and gather additional foods and to cook some of their traditional dishes.

Living at the Mission was often difficult for new converts. They were used to working when work needed to be done and resting when they were tired. The Mission lifestyle was different. The Neophytes were the main source of labor for the Missions. It was their hard work along with the soldiers’ and Fathers’ that built the Missions and their outbuildings. Agriculture and ranching required constant tending to the crops and animals. Without this labor the Missions would not have been able to survive. Many neophytes missed the freedom of their tribal life and would try to leave the Mission. The Fathers wouldn’t allow neophytes to leave and would send soldiers to search for them and bring them back. Runaways were usually punished for breaking the rules. The Native Californians were upset that the Spanish were taking over their land and didn’t like they way Natives that had joined the Mission were being treated. In November 1775 several Natives attacked the Mission because the felt that two brothers that had stolen from the Mission were too harshly treated. One of the priests, Father Jayme, was killed as well as two others working at the Mission. Many of the mission’s buildings were destroyed by fire and items were stolen from the church.

The Mission took several years to grow but records show that by the 1780s the Mission had about 20,000 sheep, several thousand cattle, and over a thousand horses. The Mission was well known for the grapes that it grew and turned into wine to be used for food and in religious services.

Top of Page Button   The End of the Mission Period
    Mission San Diego, December 1936By 1824 the area around Mission San Diego had grown and it was difficult for the Mission to use the land for ranching. The Mission was secularized in 1833 but it took 16 years for all of the land to be given or sold away. The Mission itself was given to Santiago Arguello a businessman and started to disintegrate. By 1850 the Mission buildings were being used as a fort for the U.S. Army calvary and the church was being used as a stable. In 1862 President Lincoln returned 22 acres back to the Catholic Church. One of the Mission’s Asistencia’s, Santa Ysabel, was given to the natives and became the Santa Ysabel Indian Reservation.

Top of Page Button   Reconstruction and The Mission Today
    After being returned to the Catholic Church the Mission served different purposes. In the 1890s a school was started for Native children by the nuns. The Church acted as an active parish for the San Diego and Father Anthony Ubach started restoration of the Mission in the early 1930s. The church was given the title of a minor basilica in 1976 by the Pope.

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