San Antonio Missions National Historic Park

Mission Concepcion, San Antonio, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Mission Concepcion, San Antonio, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

In its heyday, colorful geometric designs covered its surface inside and out. The exterior patterns have long since faded or been worn away. However, there are several rooms in which to see remaining frescos with all their detail and creativity. Until preservation work in 1988 revealed a second eye, this fresco on the convento ceiling was known as the “Eye of God”.

The integrity of the church and convento roofs at Mission Concepción prevented the deterioration of many fine examples of frescos. Remnants of this tediously applied art form, painted over 250 years ago, can still be seen clearly in four of the rooms.

The church of Mission Concepción is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial architecture. A variety of features were incorporated into the construction of this and other existing mission churches in the park. Intricate Renaissance and Moorish details complement Romanesque forms and gothic arches.

It is a cruciform (cross-shaped) building of limestone. The roof is vaulted with a dome, with which recent research is suggesting a deliberate placement of windows to illuminate the two side altars on specific feast days. Twin bell towers may have been topped by crosses similar to those in place today. Colorful Moorish designs mix with images showing both Native American and Spanish Catholic influences.

Mission Concepcion Church Interior

Mission Concepcion Church Interior. Click for prints & products.

Mission builders, skilled master craftsmen recruited from Mexico, preserved the basic Spanish model, with modifications dictated by frontier conditions. The quarry from which the mission Indians dug the stone to build their community is located on the grounds of Mission Concepción. The church walls are 45 inches thick; however only the inside and outside facings are of solid stone – between the two layers is a filling of small stones and building debris. The native residents of the missions provided labor for the building of these churches. This activity was one way to foster a sense of community and provide a means of training the mission residents as artisans.

Mission Concepción served for many years as the residence of the Father President, a missionary elected from among his Franciscan brothers from the College of Querétaro to act as the local field coordinator. He was in charge administratively of all Queretaro missions along the San Antonio River.

From the beginning, Mission Concepción hosted religious festivals. Missionaries strove to replace traditional indigenous rituals and celebrations with Christian pageantry. Morality plays and processionals such as Las Pastores and Los Posadas, reenacting the events around the birth of Jesus, were commonly practiced.

The missionaries, through baptism and administration of other sacraments, formalized the Native Americans‘ acceptance of Christianity. This combination of strict teaching and celebration eventually bore fruit. Today, Mission Concepción is an active parish with many members tracing their roots to the mission residents of long ago.

The mission is located at 807 Mission Road.

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose. Click for prints & products.

Officially called the Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, it was named for Saint Joseph and the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, the governor of the Province of Coahuila and Texas at the time. It was founded in 1720 by the famed Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, a very prominent Franciscan missionary in early Texas. It was built on the banks of the San Antonio River several miles to the south of the earlier mission, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo).

San José, as it became known, was the largest of the missions in the area. At its height, the community contained about 350 Indian converts, sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock. Its imposing complex of stone walls, bastions, granary, and magnificent church was completed by 1782. Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center and was also known as the “Queen of the Missions.”

Mission San Jose Convento

Mission San Jose Convento. Click for prints & products.

So rich an enterprise, it became a natural target for Apache and Comanche depredations. Although they could not prevent raids on their livestock, the mission itself was almost impregnable. In his journal, Fray Juan Agustín Morfí attested to its defensive character: “It is, in truth, the first mission in America . . . in point of beauty, plan, and strength . . . there is not a presidio along the entire frontier line that can compare with it.”

The danger was when working the fields or during travel to and from the ranch or other missions. With technical help from the two presidial soldiers garrisoned there, San José residents learned to defend themselves. Already proficient with bow and arrow, the men also learned the use of guns and cannon.

Once the mission was secularized and the missionaries moved away, it fell into disrepair and partial ruin over the years. However, the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Federal Government among others undertook to restore portions of the mission community in the 1920s and 1930s. Much of what is visible today at Mission San José was reconstructed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s. The church, which had lost its dome, bell tower, and a wall, was rededicated in 1937.

Indian Homes at Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Indian Homes at Mission San Jose, San Antonio, Texas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The granary and the convento were still standing but required stabilization and some reconstruction work. The large convento housed at least two missionaries, and any travelers or guests. The living space was on the second floor, while the first was made up of a storeroom, kitchen, and refectory.

With few exceptions, the protective walls with the Indian Quarters built into them were reconstructed in the 1930s above the original foundations. The stone used was not limestone like the originals would have been. The Grape Arbor trellis was meant to enhance the Spanish Quarters located next to it.

Located on the south wall of the church sacristy is the La Ventana de Rosa, or the Rose Window. Sculpted in 1775, it has been the object of both legend and admiration and is considered one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in North America. The meaning behind the name is currently unknown, but legend has it named for Rosa, the betrothed of Juan Huizar, who many believe created the window.

In 1941, Mission San José was declared a State Historic Site, and later that same year, a National Historic Site. When the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established in November 1978, the Spanish colonial mission was assured protection in cooperation with the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the parish.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and San José parish are responsible for any maintenance and preservation work needed on the church structure itself and about 80% of the church is original. The National Park Service, with help the park’s friends group, Los Compadres, is responsible for the other structures and historical landscape.

Mission San Jose is an active parish today and visitors are welcome to attend mass. It is located at 6701 San José Drive.

1 thought on “San Antonio Missions National Historic Park”

  1. Very Interesting reading, glad I receive your email news letters. I had just been researching San Antonio last night and had seen the missions. We are planning a trip to USA later this year. Your website always helps with our research. Thanks

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