Missions of San Antonio, Texas

Day 612

     In 1493 Pope Alexander VI divided the known world between Spain and Portugal and gave the Spanish king authority to occupy the Americas. From the 1500’s to the 1800’s Spain controlled the largest empire in the world. However by the early 1700’s France was encroaching on Spanish claimed lands in what is now Texas.

     Spain had tried to colonize the area, but Spaniards were not interested. Spain came up with the idea to make the local Indians Spanish citizens and thereby populate the area with tax paying people. The Payaya were the local indigenous people whose territory encompassed the area of present-day San Antonio, Texas.

     To become a citizen the Indians must first become catholics. To that end Franciscan monks were sent here to build missions for that purpose.

     This area was first exploded by the Spaniards in 1691. San Antonio, and the San Antonio River, were named by that expedition for Saint Anthony of Padua. The colonial settlement began here on May 1, 1718 with the founding of the Franciscan Mission San Antonio de Valero.

     In vicinity of the Mission was the Presidio (a fortified military settlement) San Antonio de Bexar, named for one of the great heroes of Spain, Due de Bexar. The place was named San Fernando de Bexar in 1731, when it became a municipality, but the locals still called it San Antonio, Spanish for “Saint Anthony”. Today it is San Antonio in the County of Bexar.

     The mission community was part of Spain’s plan to protect her interests and educate and convert the Indians. The missions were more than churches, they were fortified communities.

     The compound walls that surrounded the church provided protection from raiding Apaches and Comanches and created a secure space in which to live, work, and attend church.

     Spain built 43 missions in what is now the State of Texas. Six of those missions are along the San Antonio River, of which the first was San Antonio de Valero. By 1739, 300 Indian converts lived in that compound.

     Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo was the second of the six missions and named for the Spanish Governor of the providence at the time who approved the building of the mission. 

     It was well fortified, with gun ports at the entrance gate

and along all the walls. The walls also encased the living quarters of the Indians. It was two stories, the top with musket ports, and the lower for cannon:

     Mission San Juan Capistrano was named for Giovanni di Capistrano, the Franciscan priest who commanded the Christian forces that pushed the Turks back from Hungary in 1456. He died of the plague after this successful campaign. (Isn’t that where the birds go?)

      Mission Concepción de Acuña: This mission was named in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Juan de Acuña, the Marqués de Casafuerte. The Marqués was Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico). Originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the mission was one of the six authorized by the government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana.

     Mission San Francisco Xavier de Nájera was established in 1722 at the request of the chief of a band of Rancheria Grande natives who had guided an expedition to reopen the Missions of East Texas. No permanent buildings were established (hence nothing to take a picture of). By 1726, Mission San Francisco Xavier de Najera was abandoned and the remaining inhabitants were absorbed into Mission San Antonio de Valero

     Mission San Francisco de la Espada was the final mission of the six. On March 5, 1731, Mission San Francisco de la Espada was established along the banks of the San Antonio River.

     The inside of all the missions looked pretty much the same. 

     Like the other missions, the walls surrounding the courtyard housed the living quarters of the Indians. 

     This was rugged wilderness at the time, but those Franciscan monks sure new how to live in comfort:

      Now that you know all about the missions, which one do we now know as “The Alamo”?

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