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 JoseAll 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 WindowThis 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 ConcepcionThe 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 artThe 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 JuanMission 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 chapelMany 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 EspadaLife 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 brickMission 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 AquaductFive 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 SystemEspada 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.