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Mission Concepcion in San Antonio, Texas, USA         Source: SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

Pride of Texas, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

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Texas in the USA is distinctive with a unique history. This American state was once part of the Spanish Empire and the San Antonio Missions and Catholic churches were built by Spanish religious orders. They are recognized as playing an crucial role in the development of Texas and still play an important role in the religious life of San Antonio. A national historical park has been created to preserve the area’s history.

Missionaries and Apaches, a Glimpse into the History San Antonio.

The area which is now the State of Texas was claimed by the Spanish in the 16 th century, although they only colonized the area in the late 17 th and early 18 th century. This region was already home to tribes of Native Americans who had lived here for thousands of years.

Missions were built by Catholic religious orders, especially the Franciscans, with the support of the Spanish colonial authorities in Mexico. The aim of the missions was to spread the Christian gospel and to persuade the native tribes to adopt a settled lifestyle. This was a strategy that the colonial authorities had used elsewhere to control indigenous populations .

Chapel of Mission San Francisco de la Espada built in 1691 (dfikar/ Adobe Stock)

Chapel of Mission San Francisco de la Espada built in 1691 ( dfikar/ Adobe Stock)

When the missions were built, many tribes who were being attacked by the Apaches coming from the north sought sanctuary with the religious orders. While some Native Americans voluntarily adopted Christianity, others did not and lived in squalid conditions. All were obliged to abandon their ancestral beliefs and customs.

The missions faced many challenges and the oldest, San Francisco de la Espada, was abandoned during a war between France and Spain in the 18 th century. Ranches such as the Rancho de las Cabras were established by the missionaries and they were worked by local tribes such as the Nabedache Indians.

The missions often had great difficulties with the rebellious tribes. During the chaos that followed the Mexican War of Independence, two missions had to be abandoned, and the Native Americans largely deserted the remaining two. During the Texas War of Independence, a pitched battle was fought at the abandoned Mission Concepcion. The missions became regular Catholic parish churches and they still host mass every Sunday.

In 2002 the Park was awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Sights at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas

The park contains numerous other historical sites, including an 18 th-century aqueduct and has many miles of hiking trails. There are four missions in the park, the earliest being Mission San Francisco de la Espada, which was established in 1691. It was built in a distinctive Spanish colonial style with baroque elements and became a model for other churches in the area. Today, the façade is badly weathered, but it is still in use as a church.

The Mission Concepcion was established in 1712 by Franciscans and is still a parish church. The complex consists of a sanctuary, nave, convent, and granary. The church has been restored, and original frescos were uncovered during recent restoration work. It is well known for its distinctive bell tower.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo was built in 1720 and served the local Coahuiltecan Indians . The church was abandoned in the early 1800s and restored as a church in the 1930s. The complex bell tower and cupola are particularly noteworthy. The façade features a cross and there are several niches with sculptures of saints and the Virgin Mary. 

Bell tower at Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio (Patrick J. Wall/Danita Delimont / Adobe Stock)

Bell tower at Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio ( Patrick J. Wall/Danita Delimont / Adobe Stock)

Mission San Juan Capistrano, built in the 1720s, is a working parish church. This building was restored, and now has a white plaster exterior. Unlike the other missions, it is much simpler in design and has none of the baroque features of the others.

Visiting the San Antonio Missions

There are a number of tours to the missions. It is possible to enter the churches and walk their grounds, however, it is important to remember that the missions are still a consecrated place of worship and visitors need to act in an appropriate way.

Top image: Mission Concepcion in San Antonio, Texas, USA          Source: SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

By Ed Whelan

References

Cruz, G. R. (1983). San Antonio Missions National Historical Park: A Commitment to Research . Lebco Graphics

Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=OUkLAAAAYAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=san+antonio+missions+national+historical+park&ots=Ybc69nwNmc&sig=MbYn2de-VHpNY9ICdL7owpYBpBk#v=onepage&q=san%20antonio%20missions%20national%20historical%20park&f=false

Leutenegger, B. (1974). Report on the San Antonio Missions in 1792 . The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 77(4), 487-498

Available at:   https://www.jstor.org/stable/30241978?seq=1

Torres, L. (1992). San Antonio Missions National Historical Park . Western National Parks Association Available at: https://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=M_N644Ra6rAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA3&dq=san+antonio+missions+national+historical+park&ots=GgeUCeB5pN&sig=X9vyDgvgKLzhL6yt4cFykrja_AY#v=onepage&q=san%20antonio%20missions%20national%20historical%20park&f=false

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