With a resonant clanging that cut through the thick noonday heat, all five bells at Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcalá 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.
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.