Five Catholic missions were established along the San Antonio River in the early 1700s.  I visited four during my exploration of this historic Texas city.  Catholic missions are part church, part farm, and part fort, and were established to expand Spanish influence north from Mexico. They are found throughout the American Southwest.

San Antonio de Valero

Let’s start with San Antonio de Valero, the first Catholic mission established in this area. This is also the place where men such as Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett made their last stand against the Mexican Army during the Texas Revolution in 1836. Better known as The Alamo, and abandoned by the Catholics at the time of the historic battle in which all 189 defenders of Texas died. Their sacrifice inspired others in Texas’s fight for freedom from Mexico. An IMAX movie about the battle is offered at the nearby Rivercenter.

Mission San Antonio de Valero

The four other Catholic missions in this region are active parishes and part of the Catholic diocese of San Antonio, centered at the San Fernando Cathedral on San Antonio’s main square. Interesting…while they are active parishes, they are also part of the U.S. National Park System. You can reach the missions by bus or car.  There is also a bike trail. I wouldn’t recommend the bike trail in the heat of the San Antonio summer, but it’s sure to make for a good day out at other times of the year.

Mission San Jose

The Church at Mission San Jose

Oven and exterior wall

The arches go on and on

If possible, organize your travel schedule so that so that you can participate in Sunday’s Mariachi Mass at Mission San Jose. Arrive early and explore the grounds. You’ll get a good feel for mission life here. I felt like I was transported to the 1700s.  Many of the original exterior walls of the mission still remain, as well as a working mill and granary.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

One of the many frescoes at Mission Concepcion

Known as the best-preserved mission in the area.  Be sure to check out the frescoes.

Mission Espada

Church at Mission Espada

Church at Mission Espada by jimbowen0306 on Flickr

Farming was supported in the missions through a series of dams and acequia irrigation ditches (aqueduct).  Mission Espada is the best place to view parts of the aqueduct which continues to transport water today. I seem to have misplaced the pics from my visit,

Mission San Juan

San Antonio

Church at Mission San Juan by Peter Gutierrez on Flickr

This mission was an important supplier of food and hides as far away as Louisiana and Mexico.

As of January 2011, the National Park Service is in the process of renovating several of San Antonio’s missions.  The church at Mission San Jose is currently undergoing renovation, and Mission San Juan is scheduled for renovation later this year.

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