In the meanwhile, says Palou, “that fervent zeal which continually glowed and burned in the heart of our venerable Father Junipero, did not permit him to forget the principal object of his journey.” As soon as Portolà had left the encampment, he began to busy himself with the problem of the mission which, it had been determined, should be founded on that spot. Ground was carefully chosen with an eye to the requirements, not only of the mission itself, but also of the pueblo, or village, which in course of time would almost certainly grow up about it; and on the 16th of July — the day upon which, as the anniversary of a great victory over the Moors in 1212, the Spanish church solemnly celebrated the Triumph of the Holy Cross — the first mission of Upper California was dedicated to San Diego de Alcalà, after whom the bay had been named by Sebastian Viscaino, the explorer, many years before. The ceremonies were a repetition of those which had been employed in the founding of the Mission of San Fernando at Villicatà; the site was blessed and sprinkled with holy water; a great cross reared, facing the harbour; the mass celebrated; the Venite Creator Spiritus sung. And, as before, where the proper accessories failed, Father Junipero and his colleagues fell back undeterred upon the means which Heaven had actually put at their disposal. The constant firing of the troops supplied the lack of musical instruments, and the smoke of the powder was accepted as a substitute for incense. Father Palou’s brief and unadorned description will not prove altogether wanting in impressiveness for those who in imagination can conjure up a picture of the curious, yet dramatic scene.
The preliminary work of foundation thus accomplished, Father Junipero gathered about him the few healthy men who could be spared from the tending of their sick comrades and routine duties, and with their help erected a few rude huts, one of which was immediately consecrated as a temporary chapel. So far as his own people were concerned, the padre’s labours were for the most part of a grievous character, for, during the first few months, the records tell us, disease made such fearful ravages among the soldiers, sailors and servants, that ere long the number of persons at this settlement had been reduced to twenty. But the tragedy of these poor nameless fellows — (it was Junipero’s pious hope that they might all be named in Heaven) — after all hardly forms part of our proper story. The father’s real work was to lie among the native Indians, and it is with his failures and successes in this direction that the main interest of our California mission annals is connected.