93. San Diego: An American Town
Named After the Saint from Alcalá
California Road Trip #12
By Miguel Pérez
The 15th century Spanish Franciscan friar San Diego, who spent time as a missionary in the Canary Islands, spent the last few years of his life in Alcalá de Henares, a city near Madrid, the capital of Spain. He died there in 1463 - some 29 years before Columbus discovered the New World. He still is buried there. It is there that he is credited for miracles. It is there that the Catholic Church proclaimed him a saint in 1588.
That's why he is known as San Diego de Alcalá. And that's why so much of southern California bears that entire name. It was the name given to the bay and the entire region by Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno when he arrived here in 1602, with a map drawn by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, who had been here 60 years earlier.
Vizcaíno led a three-ship expedition, and his flagship was named San Diego. He also entered the huge bay and landed here on November 12-13, the Catholic feast day of San Diego. Apparently, that was enough for him to change the name Cabrillo had selected, which was San Miguel.
San Diego de Alcalá was also the name given to the first Spanish mission in present-day California by Padre Junípero Serra some 167 years later, in 1769. With time, San Diego de Alcalá became a much bigger metropolis than Alcalá, Spain! But what is most impressive, at least to a visitor looking for Spanish roots, is how much Spanish heritage still is recognized, preserved and honored here.
Frankly, my "Hidden Hispanic Heritage" project doesn't apply here. This is a place that doesn't hide it's Spanish and Mexican heritage. Everywhere you turn, you either find Spanish architecture, or a street named in Spanish, or even more impressively, ties to a 15th century Spanish saint and even to Alcalá, Spain!
Just as The Great Hispanic American History Tour was getting ready to leave San Diego - to head north and visit other California Spanish heritage sites - several people told me that I could not leave without visiting the University of San Diego. If I wanted to see living proof of San Diego's ties with Spain, they told me, this university is built on "Alcalá Park" and the campus is architecturally modeled after the 16th century Universidad de Alcalá de Henares, which still is one Spain's foremost universities.
"Really?" I asked. "How do I get there?"
The University of San Diego is a private, Catholic institution with very impressive academic credentials, but the campus? OMG! The Great Hispanic American History Tour stopped there on a Sunday, the only day I was told I would be able to find parking. I found 16th century Spanish Renaissance architecture, as beautiful as the buildings we had seen on our last stop in Balboa Park. Spanish candy for your eyes!
As I've written before, just when you think San Diego couldn't be more Spanish, sorpresa!
Amazingly, I leave this area with a list of places I missed and must come back to visit. Our Great Hispanic American History Tour must return to San Diego de Alcalá.
UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO
To enlarge these images, click on them!
Next, we leave San Diego, trek north on El Camino Real to a community called San Luis Rey, and visit Mission San Luis Rey de Francia.
Geographically, traveling from south to north, you would think this is the second mission built by Franciscan missionaries in California. But the missions were not built in geographic order. Mission San Luis Rey de Francia is actually the 18th, and was built 29 after the first one. Stay tuned!