The Spanish Missions in Texas are religious outposts established by Spanish priests and colonial authorities to spread the Catholic doctrine among Native Americans. With Church and State closely linked in Spain, the crown granted various religious orders of the Catholic Church permission to found mission communities to help the Spanish secure their claims to vast lands in North America.
Between 1632 and 1793, Spanish friars traveled north from Mexico into present-day Texas, where they built dozens of missions and presidios (military forts). In all, 26 missions were established and maintained in Texas with greatly varying results.
The goal was to establish autonomous Christian towns with communal property, labor, worship, political life, and social relations all supervised by the missionaries. Seeking to make life within mission communities closely resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture, the priests not only taught the Indians religion but also new life skills. They introduced European livestock, fruits, vegetables, and industry into the Texas area. Daily life followed a highly organized routine of prayer, work, training, meals, and relaxation, punctuated by frequent religious holidays and celebrations.
To become Spanish citizens and “productive” inhabitants, the Indians were taught vocational skills including farming, blacksmithing, masonry, carpentry, weaving, and more. The long term plan was that the Native Americans would mature in Christianity and absorb Spanish culture, political, and economic practices until they would no longer require special mission status. Then, as Spanish citizens, the communities could be incorporated into ordinary colonial society.
Although most of these missions fell short of their goal, several had relative success and grew into thriving settlements that are some of the state’s most important cities today. The famed Texas cattle industry was started by Spanish missionaries, who brought the first cattle from Mexico. The mission influence can still be seen across Texas in architecture, agriculture, and place names.
When the Spanish left the area, many of the missions were abandoned, fell into ruins, and the location of some of them were lost over time. However, there are several others that are well preserved and/or restored and are open to visitors. Some even continue to operate as Catholic churches.
Mission San Francisco de la Espada, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, May 2019.