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San Antonio’s Historic Mission Trail

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By Wayne Lazarus on March 8th, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

Most people have heard of the Alamo, although they may not be aware that it was built in 1718 as the mission San Antonio de Valera, part of Spain’s effort to convert the natives in the area to Catholicism. In the next 13 years, four more missions were established. They are all in a line about nine miles from beginning to end along the San Antonio River and together comprise the Mission Trail. Each offers a distinct look at the history of this area.

The Alamo is managed by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and is located at 300 Alamo Plaza in downtown San Antonio. Beyond, the other missions are part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The park is unique in that these buildings are still active Catholic parishes, and it is operated through a cooperative agreement with the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio.queen

The missions served as village, protection from other tribes and working ranches. Many of the Indians were taught vocations in addition to farming, such as masonry, carpentry and weaving. Mission San Jose was known as the “Queen of the Missions.” At one time it supported a village of 300 and a herd of 3,500 sheep.

The Franciscans designed dams for the San Antonio River, and examples can be seen at this mission and the nearby Mission San Francisco de la Espada, built in 1731. This was the only mission that taught brick making and some of the bricks can still be seen at the mission. Another interesting feature is the Aqueduct, built to irrigate the fields. San Juan Capistrano was another successful farm, supplying agricultural products to the region in the 18th century.

Mission de Concepcion will celebrate its 250th year in 2010. While the other missions have had varying degrees of renovation done, until 2009, this one had remained unaltered since it was last re-plastered in 1859. The mission was closed to visitors in 2009 for a facelift. Workmen began the removal of the old plaster only to discover previously unknown Spanish frescoes beneath it. Park manager Al Remley explained that it would have been “prohibitively expensive” to uncover the old paintings and restore them. So workmen left a few “windows” into the original paintings but re-plastered the walls. In fact, the particular plaster that was used in 1859 had worked so well to protect the frescoes from mold, mildew and chipping that it was chemically re-produced and used to re-cover the walls. But the colors and designs of the old paintings were replicated throughout the interior of the church, giving visitors the chance to experience a little of the 18th century.

You can find a map of the missions here and get driving directions from the park’s website. there is an eight-mile hiking and biking path from Mission Concepcion to Mission Espada.

(Photo: Mission San Jose courtesy San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. Used with permission.)

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