Last Friday we made the 40 mile trip south to San Antonio to explore the city and to see the famed Alamo. I know you all are familiar with the story of the Alamo, but did you know it was originally founded in 1718, was named Mission San Antonio de Valera, and was the first of five missions to be constructed along the San Antonio River. . Before touring this historic landmark we decided to visit the other missions, all within about 11 miles from the city.
The first mission we visited was Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion. Mission Concepcion was originally constructed in East Texas and moved to its current site on the San Antonio River in 1731. This mission is the most preserved of all the missions (including the Alamo) and is one of the oldest, original stone churches in the United States. Many of its original fresco paintings are still visible on its interior walls. Our next stop was at Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo which was founded in 1720 at its current site. The San Jose mission is known as the "Queen of the Mission" because of its size and architecture. There are beautiful sculptures that adorn the front façade and an ornately carved side window known as the Rose Window. The third mission we visited was Mission San Juan Capistrano which was also moved from East Texas in 1731. The lands that surrounded this mission were once rich farm and pastureland, so this mission became a regional supplier of produce and sugar cane, as well as cattle and sheep. The fourth and final mission along the San Antonio River was Mission San Francisco de la Espada, founded in 1690 in East Texas and also moved to the area in 1731. It is the oldest of all the missions. Mission Espada is unique because it is the only mission that currently houses an order of Franciscan Monks. Here is the amazing thing...all four of these missions are still active and conduct Masses several times a week.
It is very difficult to describe how we felt when visiting the missions. Originally, the missions were not surrounded by walls, but eventually the walls became necessary and were constructed because of conflicts between the northern Indian tribes and those who lived at the mission. When you walk through the gates and inside the walls of the Mission compound, it wasn't difficult to image life in the 1700s. At all of the missions, the inhabitants made their homes along the walls of the mission which left the central courtyard available for community gardens and a place to tend to the animals. This was especially evident at Mission San Jose. Still evident are shared wells and baking ovens which were dominant throughout the grounds, and there is definitely a feel of community. And when you walk into each mission chapel you immediately sense a place of holiness, of peace. You feel privileged to be able to see and walk the same path as our ancestors. And when you see the original frescos at Mission Concepcion, well...it's a humbling experience.