A historic mission in San Diego – the first-ever of its kind built in California – will continued ringing in its 250th anniversary with its "Festival of the Bells."
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, founded on July 16, 1769, has been celebrating its "jubilee year" throughout 2019. In January, as the landmark turned 250 years old, the public was invited to a special prayer service at the historic site.
In February, mission hosted "Heritage Weekend," a three-day community event that highlighted the Spanish and Native American traditions that have shaped the history of Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala.
Now, at the half-way mark of the year-long celebration, the mission hosted its 47th annual Festival of the Bells, a free, two-day event filled with activities, entertainment, and food.
The festival began at 10 a.m. Saturday with an opening performance by the Mission Choir. At noon, there was be a "Blessing of the Bells" with Mariachi Del Mar.
The bells that adorn the front of the mission were rung, one by one. The sound was powerful. Visitors stood back and looked up, creating another special moment in the long-running story of the mission.
San Diego resident Dulce Maria was at the Festival of the Bells.
She’s been going to the event since she was a child. Her family owns Diego’s Mission Tacos and, year after year, they host a food booth at the event, sharing their family recipes with San Diegans.
Maria said her family has been members of the church for more than 20 years. For them, the mission is home. It is part of their story.
"There’s so much tradition, there’s so much history to it. We grew up here," Maria told NBC 7 on Saturday. "It’s amazing to think that the church is actually older than the United States."
"We are part of history," Maria added. "That’s why this church is so important to us."
The rest of the day included docent-led tours of the mission, raffles, performances by dance troupes, games for kids and live entertainment.
On Sunday, the festival will return with an 8 a.m. Mexican breakfast, followed by an anniversary mass featuring the Mission Choir at 12 p.m., and the Blessing of the Animals -- a longtime tradition at the mission -- at 3 p.m. Attendees can also expect more dance performances and entertainment before the event wraps up at 5 p.m. with a closing ceremony.
Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, located at 10818 San Diego Mission Rd., is the first of the 21 great California Missions.
According to the mission’s website, the site is known as "the birthplace of Christianity in the west coast of the United States" and also recognized by many as the "birthplace of San Diego."
Today, it serves as an active parish church for people of all faiths.
Mass is held daily at the historic site, at 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, and at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. On Sundays, ceremonies – many featuring congregational singing – are held on the hour from 7 a.m. to noon, and again at 5:30 p.m. There is a mass in Spanish at 11 a.m. Sundays.
If you’re a history buff, the mission features a visitor’s center rich with information, as well as a gift shop, open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The mission's milestone anniversary celebration will continue through the end of 2019 with more special events to come, including Taste of the Mission in September, the Jubilee Tea in October, and a “Farewell Toast to Jubilee Year” on Dec. 31 that also includes a 5:30 p.m. mass. See the full list of anniversary events here.