The Missions: Number 1

Two hundred and fifty years after Cortes claimed Mexico and the vast lands north of it for Spain, the Spanish Crown faced a crisis: Russian ships were aggressively nosing about its completely undefended province on the Pacific Coast known as Alta (Upper) California. King Carlos III financed a company of Franciscan priests, led by Father Junipero Serra, for the purpose of colonizing the remote region. The plan provided for the padres to civilize the Indians by converting them to Catholicism, and for soldiers to guard the country and protect the missionaries. The expedition came in three divisions, one by sea and two by land, agreeing to meet at San Diego Bay to establish the first settlement. There, Father Serra founded Mission San Diego Alcalà on July 16, 1769.  In August 1774 the mission was moved six miles east, nearer to the San Diego River, where the fresh water supply was more reliable and the soil more fertile. The mission’s land area encompassed about 55,000 acres, at first devoted to raising grains and vegetables—in fact, the California olive was first cultivated at Mission San Diego. From 1778 to 1795 Mission San Diego was known as an efficient horse and mule breeding farm.  Its most successful year insofar as religious success was 1797, when 567 baptisms were performed.  Secularized in 1834, the mission fell into ruin during the late 1840s and remained abandoned until 1891. It was reconstructed in 1931. Today Mission San Diego is an active parish church, visited annually by thousands of tourists.


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