Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mother of All Missions

Last weekend Rene and I resumed our goal of visiting all 21 California missions. So far we had visited four: Santa Barbara (which we will need to revisit because we didn't go inside the church nor the grounds inside the compound), San Juan Capistrano, San Gabriel, and San Luis Obispo. This weekend we visited our fifth mission: San Diego de Alcala, California's first church and also known as the Mother of the Missions.

This was our second attempt at visiting Mission San Diego. We tried to visit back in August but were literally stopped by traffic. During our first attempt, we ended up exiting the freeway after being on the road for over four hours. At that point, we weren't even close to San Diego – crazy huh? Luckily, the exit we took was near San Juan Capistrano, which also had a mission. So we visited that mission instead. This time, armed with the knowledge that traffic sucks on the 5, Rene and I found an alternate (hello Highway 15!) and made it to San Diego in two hours. Woo hoo!

When we arrived at the mission the mood was festive. There was a Mariachi band playing music for people gathered around the front entrance; they were probably hired for an earlier wedding. We watched people dance for a little bit then decided to explore the mission.

We went to visit the church first because another wedding was starting shortly. The church layout was simple and elegant: white walls, dark wooden benches, and painted ceiling beams. What I like most about the California missions are the altars; this one was made of wood and was painted with green, gold, and coral. This altar was made in California, but some were carried over from the Old World, which is amazing when you take into account how many thousands of miles they had to haul that thing after crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I also liked the pulpit, which had a yellow/red fabric suspended on top of it like a roof.

We didn't stay inside the church too long, only long enough to pay our respects and take a few pictures. Also, preparations were underway for the next wedding and we didn’t want to be in the way.

The mission courtyard to the right of the church was pretty small. It had some nice trees, a birdbath and a shrine to JC. In the back there was a statue depicting the Virgin Mary and Jesus (I think these are universally called Pieta, like the famous one by Michelangelo in Rome) and directly opposite a depiction of the 13 Stations of the Cross.

Also to the right of the church is the mission’s religious education center. Unlike the mission with its curved arches and asymmetrical structure, this building was essentially a white box with nice shutters. It actually looked like a house with a nice brick trail leading up to it. I want my next house to have a brick path and a big magnolia tree in front of it just like this one.

To the left of the church was a large fountain and the parking lot. The parking lot took most of the space, actually, so there wasn’t much to see there. Supposedly a priest named Father Jaime was buried within the mission grounds but we didn’t see his grave anywhere. Back in the 1770s the local Indians raided the mission and Father Jaime was killed in the altercation. Unlike the San Gabriel mission, the graves here were out of sight.

Overall, the mission was picturesque but small. It was nice to visit the Mother of the Missions.

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