History In Brief
Founded: 16 July 1769 by Saint Junípero Serra
Named for: Saint Didacus of Alcalá
Number in Series: 1st
Indian Name: Nipaguay (original site: Cosoy)
The origins of the Alta California mission system date back to several wars; in particular, the War of Jenkin’s Ear fought between Spain and Great Britain (1739-1742) [Wikipedia] and the War of Austrian Succession (1742-1748) [Wikipedia]. During the Jenkin’s Ear war Spain won because of its reliance on port fortifications. These, however, did not work well in later conflicts, particularly the Seven Years War (1755-1763) [Wikipedia] where Great Britain captures both Manila and Havana against Spain’s port fortifications. Spain realized that an area defense would also be necessary so the initial expedition to look at settling Alta California was organized in part at least to establish a northern frontier to Mexico in order to protect Spain’s investments in Mexico.
This motive can be seen in the locations of the first missions and military garrisons approved in Alta California: San Diego and Monterey. Once occupied, a claim of occupation could be made for all territory around and between those locations.
1769-1775: The mission was basically two buildings at the Presidio.
August 1774: Mission moved to present location.
1775: Missionary quarters and a granary built.
1775: Mission revolt. Chapel and buildings burned.
1777: Church and buildings repaired.
1779: Buildings are roofed and a corridor added to the Presidio.
1780: Reconstruction started. A church made of adobe is built.
1783: The mission consisted of an adobe church, cemetery, granary, dormitories, and barracks with guard house. A wall made the fourth side of a more easily defended location.
1784: The church is expanded along with other buildings and a second cemetery started.
1786: A kiln for making tiles is added.
1787: More than 3,000 trees are planted to protect the fields which now have an irrigation ditch.
1795-1797: A new irrigation system with a dam is built.
1798: Indian revolutionaries from Santa Cruz (1794) die in captivity at the Presidio.
22 November 1800: Mission destroyed by earthquake.
1806: New missionary quarters are erected.
1808-1813: A new church is built. [Note: This is the structure that was rebuilt in the 1930s.]
1813-1816: A new irrigation system and dam are built.
1818: Establishment of asistencia San Ysabel.
1820: New granaries are built over the ruins of the old ones.
1862: Mission returned to Church.
1924: Reconstruction of asistencia San Ysabel (or just new church?)
1931: Mission restoration.
Padres felt they held land in trust for Indians until they could support themselves. Rule was that those who were Christians for 15 years were given land and animals. 59 Indians qualified at San Diego when secularization occurred (only 2 chose to leave).
1976: The church is officially called Basilica of Mission San Diego de Alcalá. A Basilica is a Church of historic significance as determined by the Pope.
- California Missions by Sunset Editors. (September 1979) Sunset Pub Co
- Missions and the Frontiers of Spanish America by Robert H. Jackson, Ph.D. (2005) Pentacle Press ISBN 0-9763500-0-9
- Mission Info Page at url
- Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record San Diego Mission Data Sheet at the Library of Congress
Holding place for random notes:
No tiles before 1790.
Date of Erection: The erection of the present church was started in 1808 and finished in 1813.
Architecture: Padre Sanchez.
Present condition: The church as now rebuilt, is well preserved and cared for and is used only as a show place for visitors at present. It fell into ruin in the course of many years and was restored in 1930-31. Foundation, the front wall, butresses on front and a few feet of the side walls at the front were the only remaining parts when restorations were started.
Materials of construction: Foundations of field stone.
Old front wall appears to be of solid brick. Buttresses on front are of stone, brick faced & plastered. Walls as restored of adobe brick, stone and concrete, plastered inside and out, wood framed balcony and roof, tile floor and roofing. Walls are white washed.
Additional Data: This was the first Mission in California, being founded in 1769, on what is known as Presidio hill in Old Town. Several structures were erected to serve as a church before 1808. The present church was erected about eight miles inland from the coast from the site of the original.
Public subscriptions sponsored by the San Diego Parlor, Native Sons of the Golden West, with Albert V. Mayrhoffer as chairman of the Restoration Committee made possible the restoration. I.F. Loveless was Architect And J. Marshall Miller gave direct supervision to the construction.