Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mission San Jose ~ Mission Concepcion ~ Mission San Juan ~ Mission Espada ~ Espada Aquaduct

Our visit to the Alamo was our first Mission and that was very interesting to see how life was then but we had more to see and much to learn. There are five Missions in the San Antonio area, and all are available for viewing with no fees charged.

The largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America are right in the San Antonio, Texas area. They date back to the early 1700’s when the Spaniards concentrated their efforts on spreading the Catholic faith. The Missions were agents of the state and offered sanctuary to the Indians from their enemies. It was in these Missions that the Indians were taught the Catholic faith and many skills from the Spanish culture.

The essence of the mission system was discipline, religious, social and moral. Some of the Indians fled the missions and returned to their former life but most accepted the Catholic faith and became participants in the Spanish society.

Mission San Jose
All of the Missions have Visitor’s information centers that have brochures and some even had some artifacts and displays. Mission San Jose also offered a short movie that was wonderful to watch and learn a lot about what the history of the area was. This Mission became the best known of the Texas missions and was viewed as a model of mission organization. The size of the complex speaks to the reputation as “Queen of the Missions” and had 350 Indians living here.

The Rose Window
This window was named Rose Window, or Rosa’s Window, although there is no information to explain that, other than folklore. The most likely theory is that the window was named after Saint rose of Lima. The window is a premier example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation known in the United States.

Mission Concepcion
The Mission Concepcion was transferred from East Texas in 1731. It still looks much like it did in those days and is going through a renovation at this time so we were not able to go inside. It is one of the oldest original stone church buildings in the United States today.

Each Mission was enclosed within stone walls and offered security from the enemies. The Texas area was populated by hundreds of Indian tribes, all working independently of one another and so the Mission was a welcome refuge for some. Several soldiers from the nearby fort taught the Indians how to use European arms.

Wall art
The Missions were built to resemble those in Spain and were painted with colorful murals in both the interior and exterior. Wall art was used to highlight features or to hide the flaws, some were symbolic for teaching tools to the Indians and many were decorative. Dirt and time has covered or removed most of the artwork of 1756 in Mission Concepcion but conservators cleaned and preserved the original walls of the Convent in 1988.

Mission San Juan
Mission San Juan was rich in farm and pasturelands so became a regional supplier of agricultural supplies. Crops grown outside the walls were peaches, melons, pumpkins, grapes and peppers. Also grown were corn, beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and sugar cane, which required irrigated fields. In 1792 their herds included 3500 sheep and nearly as many cattle. All missions were self-sufficient and often traded surplus goods to others.

Mission San Juan chapel
Many of today’s parishioners trace their roots back to the original inhabitants. Mission San Juan serves as the spiritual center for their community today and they come to worship in this church just as their ancestors did many years ago.

Mission Espada
Life in the Mission was very disciplined and the days were very structured. Mornings began with Mass to include singing, prayers and religious lessons. The men and boys would later head out of the compound to orchards and fields to work and tend their crops.

Many would spend the day in quarries to chip rocks for building materials and others would go to the distant ranches to tend livestock. The missions taught many vocational skills to the Indians. They learned blacksmithing, carpentry, masonry and stone cutting to construct the elaborate buildings. The women and girls would learn to cook, sew, and spin, tend gardens and they would also learn how to make soap, pottery and candles. The older residents were responsible for the fishing and arrow making.

Mission Espada brick
Mission Espada is the most southern of the missions. It was the only mission to make brick, which is still visible today. The influence of all their artisans is still evident in the city.

Espada Aquaduct
Five dams and several aqueducts along the San Antonio River were necessary for continual flow of the river water for irrigation into the seven gravity flow ditch systems, known as acequias. Mission Espada has the best-preserved acequia system.

The Acequia System
Espada Dam was completed in 1745 and still diverts river water into an acequia madre (mother ditch). The water is still carried through Espada Aqueduct which is the oldest Spanish aqueduct in the United States. Farms still use this system today.
The Spanish missions played a large part in forming the foundation for the city of San Antonio. Since the 1920’s the city has worked to preserve that. The missions, because they remain active parishes today, are a connection to the past and offer that connection to be there for many years to come.

Visit the Alamo and the River Walk in San Antonio, Texas with us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

San Antonio, Texas ~ River Walk ~ San Fernando Cathedral

Our RV adventure in San Antonio, TX began with a bus ride downtown to see the Alamo and the River Walk. We don’t usually ride a city bus but this was the best way suggested by our RV park hosts and it sure was a lot easier than taking the big truck downtown.

Olympics Storefront on Houston Street
Once we got off the bus we started over to the Alamo and passed a storefront on Houston Street that was showing the spirit of the Winter Olympics happening in Vancouver, BC. It was quite neat to see something reminding us of home when we’re so far away.

The Trolley Bus
We were just leaving the Alamo Plaza after visiting the Alamo when we saw this trolley, which is one of many in the city, they appear to be the bus of choice in the downtown core. We also saw horse drawn buggies which added to the spirit of the era that we’d just visited, being enjoyed by many on this sunny Sunday.

Paseo Del Rio
We only had a short distance to walk over to Texas’s #1 tourist attraction, the famous San Antonio River Walk. We’d heard that it was not to be missed by all who had been to San Antonio. The day was the first sunny day in awhile and that may have helped but there were lots of tourists and locals enjoying the restaurants adding to the excitement of the River Walk. The River barges are a very popular way to see the Canal, but on busy days like this day, you must buy your ticket early for a ride. We enjoyed the river barge ride including the tour guide, Mike’s information and humor.

San Antonio River Walk
The San Antonio River Walk, the Paseo del Rio is too long to walk all of it on our visit, a total of 21 km (13 mi), but we did make a good effort. The San Antonio River meanders through the city offering several miles on the River Walk, parts of it is the natural river and other sections have been manmade. It is a great place to enjoy the city for dining or a quiet stroll on the cobblestone walkway with overhanging very old Cypress trees. Quaint bridges and stairways invite you to stray from the river to see the sights there, too.

The very active Association for the River Walk produces 17 annual events, including the Mardi Gras which would be a fun event to see. It takes over two months to install the Christmas lights and that long to take them down, too, but there is no doubt that it would be a wonderful sight for a River walk or barge ride during the Christmas season.

A resident Egret
Our walk included some of the quiet areas of the River Walk and I don’t think this egret was as surprised as we were to see him on the Canal. It really doesn’t feel like it but we’re in the middle of a busy city and there is an egret sitting in the tree, we are used to seeing them out in the wild lands. He wasn’t in a hurry to leave and seemed quite at home. We’d seen several pigeons and ducks during our lunch at canal side and they were definitely at home waiting for any lunch scraps people were willing to share with them.

San Fernando Cathedral
The Main Plaza is considered the Heart of the City and offers a resting place in a busy downtown city center. What really caught our attention was the San Fernando Cathedral. The bells were chiming as many entered the church for a Sunday service. We had the opportunity to see the inside and I was surprised at how bright it was in there, so many old churches are dark. There were dozens of candles burning and voices filled the Church with hymns. The San Fernando Cathedral was founded in 1731 and is the oldest continuously functioning church in all of Texas.

Bexar County Court House
The statue of San Antonio de Padua, one of the most beloved of saints, was presented to the city by the order of the Alhambra in 1955. He stands in the Main Plaza across the street from the Bexar County Court House. This building, not the first court house built on this location, was built of red sandstone in 1892.

It is a common sight to see the American flag flying everywhere we go. This one was a photo opp. I was not going to pass by. The wind had them all blowing perfectly. A perfect picture to end our perfect day of sightseeing in downtown San Antonio, Texas.

We’ve more to see in San Antonio, Tx, watch for the day at the Missions in the area and our visit to the Alamo.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Alamo ~ Spirit of Sacrifice Cenotaph ~ San Antonio, Texas

Our RV Adventure has brought us to Texas, USA. The state is so large we know we’re not going to see all of it but we do want to see the very special sights in San Antonio, Texas. We arrived with plans for a few busy days. Our first day was to include a visit to the River Walk and the Alamo, the most visited historic site in Texas.
Spirit of Sacrifice Cenotaph
The first sight was the Spirit of Sacrifice Cenotaph. It stands 60 feet high in the Alamo Plaza, and was completed in 1939. The names of all soldiers who died in the battle of the Alamo are on this monument, the marker reads:                          
Erected in memory of the heroes who sacrificed their lives at the Alamo, March 6, 1836 in the defence of Texas. “They chose never to surrender nor retreat, these brave hearts with flag still proudly waving perished in the flames of immortality that their high sacrifice might lead to the founding of this Texas.”

San Antonio de Valero Mission
The Mission was formally called the San Antonio de Valero Mission, whose primary purpose was to convert the Indians to Christianity and to educate them. The remaining structures of the original Mission are the chapel and the long barrack. The cornerstone was set in place on May 8, 1744 but the Mission was founded years earlier in 1718. The chapel is open for viewing some of the artifacts on display and the shrine built for the soldiers who died. No cameras are allowed, for preservation purposes as well as respect to this building and the contents.

The Long Barrack
The Long Barrack is the other one of the two original structures that comprised Mission San Antonio de Valero, or the Alamo. It houses many artifacts on display in the long barrack. The story is told with murals and pictures as well as display cases that include coins, tools, dishes and weapons of the day. They also have uniforms that were worn at the time that look like they would fit a 10 year old child of today. They may have fought a big battle but they were small men.

The well is another preserved part of the original Mission. It sits under a large oak tree that would not have likely been planted there in those very early days. The sight of this well causes one to ponder the life that they led in the Mission back in 1744, over 250 years ago and marvel just at the idea that we’re actually standing on the same ground that history has marked.

This fountain is a quiet spot in one courtyard of the complex. The four sides are engraved with four of the defenders: Crockett, Bowie, Travis and Bonham. This vine covered wall behind the garden was not part of the original but was built as part of the renovations done in the 1920’s to preserve the site and used as the walkway, as could be within the fortess walls.

Research Library at the Alamo
The DRT Research Library contains books and documents on Texas History.

The Daughters of the Republic of Texas, DRT was officially founded in 1891 by two young women. Their intent was to create an organization for women who were descendants of Texas pioneers in order to honor and preserve the memories of their ancestors.

Best known of the DRT efforts is the preservation of the Alamo site and buildings. All money used in preserving the Alamo comes from donations and sales at the Alamo Gift Museum with no monetary help from local, state or federal governments. No fees are charged to visitors of the Alamo.

I think that no matter where we’re from, when we hear San Antonio, Texas, we think of the Alamo. It was a big part of the history of the state and has been documented on every level. This was a worthwhile visit and a credit to everyone involved in preserving this part of their history.

Now follow us as we spend time on the San Antonio River Walk and the San Antonio Missions.


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