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Inside the Icon: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá

The mother of all California missions celebrates its 245th birthday this month.



Happy Birthday

Each year in mid-July, revelers celebrate the mission’s anniversary at the Festival of the Bells—the only time of the year when all five bells are rung in unison. This year’s festival
is July 18–20.


The City of San Diego and the Mission San Diego de Alcalá are named after St. Didicus, or Diego, who was born in 1400 in Alcalá, Spain.

A Papal Blessing

On November 17, 1975, Pope Paul VI designated the mission a minor basilica because of its historical significance. It is one of only four California missions with this designation.

Big Bells

Cast in 1802, the bottom left bell is named Ave Maria Purisima, or Immaculate Mary. It weighs 805 pounds, while Mater Dolorosa (“Our Lady of Sorrows”), on the bottom right, weighs 1,200. Mater Dolorosa rings daily.

In The Beginning

Known as the “Mother of the Missions,” it is California’s first church and the oldest of the state’s 21 missions. It also marks the birthplace of Christianity and Catholicism in
the West.

Founding Father

Father Junípero Serra established Mission San Diego de Alcalá on Presidio Hill on July 16, 1769. It was moved to its current location on San Diego Mission Road in 1774— the original site didn’t have enough water to sustain crops.



It's Not a Circus Tent

The canopy signifies that the church is a basilica (every basilica has one). In earlier times, the canopy shaded the clergy as they walked into the church. The red and gold are papal colors.

Anointing the Animals

The Blessing of the Animals dates back to the 1200s, when St. Francis of Assisi wrote “Canticle of the Creatures,” an ode to all living things. The mission has blessed cats, dogs, birds, snakes, and fish.

A Modern Mission

Today, the parish is home to more than 2,000 families and is one of the largest in San Diego.

Wedding Factory

Practicing Catholic couples can and do get married at the mission. Ceremonies happen every Saturday at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m.

If You Rebuild It, They Will Come

The church has been rebuilt five times. The current structure was built in 1931 to resemble the 1813 version and maintains some original features, including the façade and parts of the floor. The painting of St. Didicus predates the mission and is original to the church.

Best Year Ever

The mission claims 1797 as its most successful year, with 565 baptisms and 1,405 conversions to Christianity. At that time, the mission’s land area totaled 50,000 acres with numerous crops and vineyards, 20,000 sheep, 10,000 cattle, and 1,250 horses.


Get Inside the Icon

10818 San Diego Mission Road, Mission Valley


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