Bells ring out to celebrate founding of California's oldest mission in San Diego
July 15--With a resonant clanging that cut through the thick noonday heat, all five bells at Mission Basilica San Diego de AlcalÃ¡ were rung in unison Saturday to mark the founding of the oldest mission in the state.
Even the oldest bell, the 805-pound Ave Maria Purisima, a massive crown-topped bell that was made in 1802, was rung. Only once a year -- on the day celebrating the founding of the mission -- is that bell sounded along with the four others.
The bell ringing also marked the start of the mission's Festival of the Bells, a weekend-long event of food, games, music, an art exhibit and fellowship that is spread across the historic mission's grounds in Mission Valley.
This is the 248th anniversary of the founding of the mission. And it was the 45th year of the festival, which draws in church members and neighbors from the nearby community.
"It's wonderful to me to see people, some of whom I haven't seen much over the past year," said Misty Suppos, the chairperson of this year's festival committee.
She's been coming to the festivals for nearly 30 years, since she was a child.
"It's a great sense of family and faith," she said. "It wouldn't be July for me without this."
A large crowd nearly filled the mission's church at noon when Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego walked down the center aisle in a procession led by a mariachi group.
Father Peter Escalante, pastor of the church, said in brief remarks that the bells played an important role in mission history -- and in everyday life.
Bells were rung in the early days to call people to worship, to work, or to meals. "And most importantly, to siesta," he said to a ripple of laughter in the church.
While the 1802 bell is the oldest of the five bells, it is not the largest. That distinction belongs to the bell that hangs next to it -- called "Mater Dolorosa," or "Mother of Sorrows", it weighs 1,200 pounds.
After Escalante's remarks inside the church, everyone filed outside to the front steps of the mission, beneath the campanario that holds the quintet of bells.
After brief prayers Dolan deftly flicked holy water up in the direction of the bells, in a blessing that honored the anniversary of the mission and inaugurated the weekend festival.
Some in the crowd had brought their own bells and as the big bells clanged out they rang their own, too.
During the ceremony Dolan had prayed that "may all who hear these bells respond in joy." After the ceremony he said that bell ringing is not limited to the church but has been used in other walks of life -- on Navy ships to mark time, in small towns to warn or celebrate.
"There is something very powerful about a bell," he said. "It calls us to friendship, or to worship, or to fellowship. And it calls us to come and to keep moving forward."
The free festival continues today from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. at 10818 San Diego Mission Road. Docents will give tours of the grounds from noon to 4 p.m. And at 3 p.m. people are invited to bring their pets to the mission for the popular Blessing of the Animals.