10 Facts About the Mission San Diego de Alcala

(Image: Flickr: armyarch)

Mission San Diego de Alcala is thriving. This was not true for much of its history. Mission property changed hands as Spain, Mexico and then the United States took control of the San Diego area. Pope Paul VI granted the once struggling mission Basilica status in 1976, and today it is an active Roman Catholic parish offering eight Masses on Sundays. How did a rough brush structure that started in 1769 get to where it is today?

Older than the United States

In July 1769, an exhausted group of Spanish soldiers and priests arrived from Mexico City. King Carlos of Spain wanted to beat the Russians in claiming California. The journey was so grueling nearly half the 219 people who started died. Two ships with supplies for the land expedition had lost nearly all their crews to scurvy when they got to San Diego. One ship had only its cook and one crew member.

Three goals

A few padres and soldiers started the first of twenty-one California missions. At the time, 16,000 to 19,000 Kumeyaay (or Yuba) Native Americans lived in the area. The goal of the Padres was to bring their religion to the Kumeyaay. The soldiers were ordered to expand Spain's territory. The Kumeyaay wanted to continue in their traditional way of life.


After soldiers shot at the Kumeyaay for taking Spaniard belongings, the Padres moved the mission six miles away from the Presidio (fort). They wanted to get away from the aggressiveness of the soldiers. It was too late, for in a couple years the Native people tried to drive the Spaniards out. They killed a padre and two craftsmen, and destroyed the Mission buildings. However, they were overpowered and work on the mission began again.

A self sustaining economy

By 1797, the mission was restored and thrived. Local Indians farmed 50,000 acres for the Mission. Mission San Diego also had 31,000 livestock, in sheep, cows and horses. Indian women were taught spinning and weaving, soap making and other important skills.

Mexican rule

Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821. In 1826 the Governor of California, declared all Mission Indians who wished freedom (from obligations to their Mission) could become Mexican citizens instead. In 1834, all Mission properties were seized by the government and put up for sale. Mission San Diego didn't sell, so it was granted to a Mexican citizen in June 1846.

US Government Property

When the United States captured California from Mexico in 1846, the Mission was taken by the U.S. Military as a storage site.

Church ownership again

In 1863, President Lincoln granted all the California missions back to the Roman Catholic Church. At the time he also deeded 22 acres to the church.


After the building returned to the Roman Catholic church, it sat untended until the 1880's when a Fr. Ubach raised money to help in its restoration. He also started a using the building for a school for Native Californians. After his death in 1907, restoration went on hold until 1931, when people began to restore the Mission to how it was in 1836.

Before restoration
Before restoration

A Parish church

In 1941, the restoration was complete, and the Mission buildings began to be used again as the site for a Roman Catholic parish. This was over 100 years after the secularization by Mexico.


Mission San Diego de Alcala has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places (#70000144). Pope Paul VI designated the Mission a Minor Basilica in 1976.

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