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The Historic Missions Of San Antonio

The Five Missions Of San Antonio

A chain of five missions established along the San Antonio River in the 18th century became the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America. Built primarily to expand Spanish New World influence northward from Mexico, the missions also served to introduce native inhabitants into Spanish society.

Four of the missions were originally founded in East Texas. As the East Texas missions succumbed to drought, malaria, and French incursions, however, they were relocated to San Antonio.

Missions San Jose, San Juan, Concepcion, and Espada continue to operate as active parishes of the Catholic church and all are open to the public. 

The Alamo And The Texas Revolution

The first and today the most widely known of these missions was San Antonio de Valero, commonly called the Alamo. It was established in 1718 as a way station between missions already existing in East Texas and other base missions in Mexico. It was well over 100 years old when it became the focal point for the Battle of the Alamo, fought March 6, 1836. The Alamo will always be remembered and associated with that tragic battle that cost all the defenders their lives. About six weeks later General Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna at San Jacinto. Houston's Texan army killed or captured all of Santa Anna's men who heavily outnumbered them; only nine Texans died. This decisive battle resulted in Texas's independence from Mexico.

San Jose (1720)

Soon after the building of the Alamo, a second mission was founded in 1720 about five miles downstream. Named San Jose, this new mission was established by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus, who had previously left a failed mission in East Texas. A model among the Texas missions, San Jose gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. Among the San Antonio missions, it also provided the strongest garrison against raids from Indians.

San Juan (1731)
First established in East Texas, mission San Juan Capistrano made its permanent home on the banks of the San Antonio River in 1731. Within a short time, the mission became a regional supplier of agricultural and other products including iron, wood, cloth, and leather goods produced by the Indians in its workshops. A few miles southeast of the mission was Rancho Pataguilla, which in 1762 reported 3,500 sheep and nearly as many cattle. 

Concepcion (1731)
One of the most attractive of the San Antonio missions, the church at Concepcion looks essentially as it did more than 200 years ago, when it stood at the center of local religious activity. The mission was well known for its religious celebrations. Not visible today are the colorful geometric designs that originally covered the exterior surface of the mission. Inside, however, are original paintings of religious symbols and architectural designs. 

Espada (1731)

Mission San Francisco de la Espada, like its sister missions San Jose, San Juan, and Concepcion, had its beginnings in East Texas. Originally named San Francisco de los Tejas, Espada was renamed and relocated to San Antonio in 1731. It is the southernmost of the chain of missions located on the San Antonio River. Mission Espada features a very attractive chapel, along with an unusual door and stone entrance archway.

The Espada Aguaduct

The missions' need for irrigation for the crops necessitated an elaborate system of 
acequias, or irrigation ditches, to channel water. The Spanish constructed seven acequias, five dams, and an aqueduct, using American Indian workers. It's water source was the San Antonio river which today winds through downtown San Antonio and is a major tourist attraction. This system once extended 15 miles and irrigated 3,500 acres of land. The Espada Aqueduct was constructed in 1745 by Franciscans to serve the mission lands of Espada. It is the only remaining Spanish aqueduct in the United States.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves four of the five Spanish frontier missions in San Antonio, Texas, USA. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, maintain the Alamo and receive no monetary help from local, state or federal government. They depend solely upon money from sales in the Alamo Gift Museum, donations from individuals and private foundation grants to fund its educational programming and general operation. It remains the number one tourist attraction in Texas.

The San Antonio Riverwalk


DMS said...

I knew so little about these missions before stopping by today. I had heard of the Alamo- but that's it! I so enjoyed the pictures that you included- as they helped me to get a better image of each area. I especially love that river walk. Wow!

Anna Maria said...

Thanks for visiting Jess! My parents brought us to San Antonio when we were kids to visit the Alamo. I brought my kids to visit it when they were young. I have taken a number of my Grand-kids. I've lived here the last fifteen years and have visited all the Missions a number of times and always learn something new. I've also painted all five on a variety of surfaces. The story's from that time period remain fascinating.

Anna Maria said...

The Riverwalk is beautifully landscaped and the River parades are fun and different. At Christmas time every tree is covered with lights and it's magical. The San Antonio River isn't a big river but has and still plays a major role in the area.

Jon said...

The Riverwalk looks beautiful. I also really love the Spanish architecture of the missions (even if the history associated with them isn't always pretty).

Anna Maria said...

Jon...good to hear from you! I know you love Spain and there is a lot of Spanish influence in even the newer architect along the ever expanding lovely Riverwalk. The reason I have always been curious about these old missions is that it was a family rumor that my Native American Great Grandmother was an Apache "convert" from one of them.

Jill Paterson said...

San Antonia looks to be a very interesting place, Anna. Full of history. And the Riverwalk is beautiful.

Anna Maria said...

Yes Jill, there is a lot of Texas history in San Antonio. They dam up the river, drain it, and clean it through the city every January and the list of things they find in it always amazes me as to why people would throw that stuff in there. There are some fabulous Mexican food and other restaurants and hotels built along a portion of it.


The river walk is what I see when I think of San Antonio. Having never been there, the photos are all I have to go by. I've heard it's a beautiful city.

The old missions, for reasons I can't quite put my finger on, give me a really creepy, ominous feeling. I don't like to look at the photos. Weird, aren't I?

Anna Maria said...

No Grace, I don't think your feelings about the Missions are weird. I've had the same feelings sometimes when I visit, wondering if anything awful ever happened in them coming to know what I now know about the religion. They are a major part of our history that can't be denied, but we don't know all the truth about them.

This is the way I reconcile it. I grew up attending a poor Mission church attended by revolving Franciscan Missionary's who had very little but the clothes on their backs, and asked for very little, just enough for the upkeep, and that was mostly raised by having bazaars the flock donated and prepared the food to sell to a lot of town folks who liked it.

I didn't become disillusioned with the church until I moved to the city to a wealthy parish that was greedy in expecting folks to donate to elaborate furnishings for the church and the rectory. After I visited the lavish Vatican, I knew what my problem with that religion was...greed. It was not the message Jesus taught, nor Saint Francis who founded the Franciscans based on what should have been taught all along.