mission san jose

Exploring the San Antonio Missions

What a wonderful holiday weekend. I flew down to San Antonio to spend time with my new beaux, David. After a relaxing Thursday evening, we spent Friday riding bikes a long the green belt to tour all the missions, now named a World Heritage Site.

The City of San Antonio owes its existence to the rich mission heritage.  A mission was  an institution used by the Spanish to transplant their culture to frontier regions.  The missions taught native people not only the Catholic faith, but also many occupational skills and the way of the Spanish government.

We started out at Mission Espada which was founded in East Texas in 1690 as San Francisco de Los Tejas. The oldest East Texas mission was moved to the San Antonio River in 1731 and was renamed to San Francisco de la Espada. Here, the Spanish Franciscan mission taught American Indians farming, black smithing, weaving, masonry and more. It was the only San Antonio Mission that made brick and tile. The Spanish language and Catholicism was the adopted way of life of the 52 families that called the mission home.

The compound was expanded in 1770 to include a granary as the earlier granary was converted to a church.  Its acequia, a spanish watercourse, has operated continuously since 1745!  Today the mission is the most complete complex of the San Antonio Missions and is a very active parish.

From Mission Espada we followed the lazy San Antonio River to an old aqueduct built over Piedras Creek. I can’t believe I’ve been to San Antonio so many times and have never made it to all these historic sites, only the Alamo.

We decided to stay on the west side of the river and continued to our next stop, Mission San José. Mission San José was big and as such is known as the Queen of the Missions. It was founded by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus in 1720. Its imposing walls encompassed a large square lined with Indian quarters. A bastion was built in one corner to protect against attack. The mission also includes a grist mill which was built in 1794 and operated until 1809. It was used to grind wheat into flour for communions wafers and loaves of bread.  The grist mill was restored to working order in 2001.  Of course, the most important structure to all the missions was the church. Mission San Jose’s church features a rose window known as the premier example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation in the USA.

With our meandering pace, lunch was upon us. We stopped for authentic Mexican food at Cascabel’s. I ordered pork gorditas and the server asked, “what kind of pork…we have four choices!!” I let her pick and I wasn’t disappointed though I did have a lead weight in my belly as we started back down the green belt to visit two more missions. David got a big bowl of Birria…goat soup!

After a short detour, we stopped at Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisma Concepción de Acuña. Mission Concepción, founded in 1731, has remained virtually unchanged since its inception over 250 years ago. The mission is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. It served as a religious center and upon entering the mission the Coahuiltecan Indians were expected to give up their own religion, culture, and traditions for the Spanish way of life.

The Moors influence on the Spanish is displayed through the knowledge of geometry and astronomy in the construction of Mission Concepción.   Built high into the west wall above the choir loft is an ocular window through which sunlight pours during solar equinoxes.  Frescos which adorned all missions can still be seen at Mission Concepción. The mission is one of the country’s oldest stone churches. The mission served as a religious center and upon entering the mission the Coahuiltecan Indians were expected to give up their own religion, culture, and traditions for the Spanish way of life.

Our final stop was at Mission San Juan Capistrano.  It was also moved from East  Texas in 1731.  By 1745, the mission had recruited 41 indigenous families.  It was expanded in 1770 to accommodate Spanish families as well.  Mission San Juan was both an agricultural and weaving center which produced crops such as corn, beans, sugar cane, and watermelon.

This is David’s favorite due to its quaint church. It was fun to walk around each mission complex and compare some of the differences. I loved all the old wood gates and doors, crosses, and frankly the natural crumbling walls that used to be painted in bright colors. I’m not sure which mission was my favorite. Perhaps the first one we visited just because I wasn’t sure what to expect.

What a fun day we had before we headed off to the Texas hill country for a romantic weekend! ETB

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