This mission is still listed as a local attraction even though a lot has changed. Twenty-one missions were established in California over time, and they are still considered historical landmarks, but this era is now considered a controversial footnote to history.
This mission basilica in San Diego was the first California mission. It was established in 1769 in an era with a different attitude toward settlement and treatment of Native Americans. I’m not sure why Ruth and I went to to see it while in San Diego, but we did. The only other guests we saw that day were older Americans who grew up in a time with a different attitude toward establishing missions.
The name most associated with the California missions is Father Junipero Serra. This Franciscan priest was charged with establishing missions and he did. He established this first mission in the area in 1769, and he went on to create 9 of the 21 missions that grew to maturity up and down the coast of California in a different era. Natives attacked this mission 6 years after it was built. It did well in its early years, but earthquakes affected all of the missions built over time. This mission’s doors were replaced many years ago. This was always considered a minor basilica, but it remains the first one so is historically important. It’s now opened from 9 to 4 daily for a fee, but some of the cases in the museum were empty, which seemed to indicate change.
Native Americans who came to this mission for help had to agree to convert. In exchange for their cooperation they were taught agriculture and learned how to care for animals. Morality with a Christian thrust was a specific requirement here and elsewhere.
Junipero Serra was made a saint of the church but not until 2015. It was a controversial happening and many Native Americans denounced this sainthood. Over time Serra selected his favorite mission. It was the one he established in Carmel. Perhaps his most famous and visited mission over time was the one he established known as San Juan Capistrano.
You might wonder what happened to him over time. He was in Texas preparing a mission there on the frontier when Comanches attacked and burned it. He was ordered to relocate in Mexico City where he preached and oversaw the Inquisition there. Over time he baptized 6,000 natives in California. This represented 10% of the local population.
In 1862 during the Civil War mission lands were restored to the Church by order of the President. The President was Lincoln at the time, and I have often wondered how he felt about his actions.