Western Trips

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

San Antonio Missions

Western Trips makes a visit to San Antonio Texas and the historic missions found there. In addition to the historic Alamo, there's plenty to be seen in San Antonio.

san antonio texas mission
San Jose Mission, San Antonio TX
The mission featured in these photos is Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, mostly referred to as Mission San Jose. This was the second mission established along the San Antonio River valley of southern Texas. Mission San Jose was established after the building of the Alamo. The Alamo's official name was Mission San Antonio de Valero and is of course the historic mission where the famous Texas defenders held out against the Mexican Army in 1836.

Mission San Jose in Texas

Father Margil de Jesus, assigned to the Alamo, decided that another mission was needed in addition to the Alamo. The Alamo was becoming too overcrowded. The father asked for and received permission from the provincial governor to establish a second mission south of the Alamo Mission. Mission San Jose was named for both Saint Joseph and the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo who was the governor of the Province of Coahuila and Texas at that time.

texas mission church
Mission church entrance
The founding ceremonies for this second mission took place in February of 1720. It's interesting to note that leaders of three Indian bands who desired to come into the mission were appointed governor, judge and sheriff of this new settlement named San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo.

san jose mission in San Antonio
Spanish colonial Baroque architecture
Building of the Church

Today's visitors to San Antonio's Mission San Jose see a limestone church that was erected beginning in 1768. The statuary created on the church facade is amazing. You can just imagine the work and artisan skill needed to create such beautiful ornamentation. In 1768 there were thought to be about 350 Indians living on the mission grounds. The mission church  is thought to have been completed around 1782. When visiting today you'll quickly notice the very long walls extending around the mission grounds. The rooms you'll notice built inside of the walls generally housed the mission Indians.

The Spanish colonial Baroque architecture and especially the work on the church facade is remarkable as you might notice in these photos.The San Jose Mission was known as the "Queen of the Missions" as it served as a model for others.

Adjacent to the church main building is the convento. The convento was built to house both missionaries and visitors.The convento was a three story structure. What the visitor sees today is the exterior stonework. The story is that the people with the highest standing resided on the upper floors. Those without standing were housed on the first or ground floor.

Mission San Jose was named San Jose Mission National Historic Site in 1941 and was listed on the National Register in 1966.

mission san jose in Texas
Mission San Jose convento area
The Mission of the Mission

All Spanish Missions established in North America had one main purpose. That was to Christianize the Native population and turn them into tax paying subjects of the King of Spain. At the very same time the missions served as a symbol of Spanish sovereignty in the area. The Spanish military and the church worked relatively close. The same was true with the Spanish mission system of California which began in 1769 with the first mission erected in San Diego. The Spanish believed that in Christianizing the Indians peace would prevail. While this wasn't always the case, the missions did act as a stabilizing element.

As was the fate of the Spanish missions in California, when the Spaniards were ejected from North America by the Mexicans in the 1820's, the missions in Texas were also secularized. In February 1824 Mission San Jose ceased being a mission. The land was turned over to both the Mexican government and to the Indians living there. This mission and the others entered a period of neglect. Just as with the California missions, Mission San Jose deteriorated over the years. It wasn't until 1931 that the Franciscans returned to Mission San Jose and live there today. Today, the San Jose Mission in San Antonio is an active parish.

You'll find these additional related photo articles about the Spanish California missions interesting on our Western Trips site. The Sonoma Mission which was the last mission built in California. Also Mission San Juan Bautista and the Carmel Mission in Carmel California.

san jose mission
Rooms built within the mission wall
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Beginning in the 1920's, the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Federal Government plus other groups undertook to restore portions of the mission community. We are all fortunate for this as the San Jose Mission grounds serve as an excellent symbol of mission life during the period of Spanish rule in Texas. 

This large historical park which was established in 1978 preserves four of the five missions built in San Antonio Texas. The one mission which is not inside the park is the Alamo located in downtown San Antonio. The Alamo is operated by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. When visiting the national park you'll be able to follow guided tours of the church and grounds by very knowledgeable park rangers.

To visit the San Antonio missions there is a driving route from downtown to Espada, the southernmost mission site in the park. The exact addresses of each mission are Mission Concepción, 807 Mission Road,
Mission San José, 6701 San Jose Drive, Mission San Juan, 9101 Graf Road, Mission Espada, 10040 Espada Road.

Driving to the missions from the downtown San Antonio area, go south on South St. Mary’s Street. About one mile south of downtown, after passing beneath railroad tracks, South St. Mary’s becomes Roosevelt Ave. Continue on Roosevelt 4 miles to a large stone structure on your left which is Mission San José. At the first stop light past the mission turn left onto New Napier Ave. Follow the signs into the parking lot. 

(Photos from author's private collection)