The Mission Trail

Written by Randy Watson

The Mission Trail refers to the missions established along the stretch of the San Antonio River.  The purpose of these missions was both religious and economic in nature, as the Indians converts were educated to become devout Catholics and productive members of the Spanish community.  There are 5 missions in this trail, namely Mission San Antonio de Valero (more commonly known as the Alamo), Mission Concepcion, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Mission San Jose, and Mission San Juan Capistrano.  A common misconception is that these missions were the churches themselves, but in fact the missions refer to the towns.  The Church in each of these missions was the center of community life.

Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo) played an important role in Texas History.  It is the fort where 189 defenders took their stand against the army of Mexican General Santa Anna during the Texas Revolution.  Today, this fort remains as the symbol of Texan Liberty, for it was due to the sacrifice of these brave men that Texas was able to attain its independence.  As Sam Houston, (the man who eventually defeated General Santa Anna in the Battle of Jacinta) would say, \"Remember the Alamo.\"  The Chapel and the Long Barracks are all that remain of this historic fort today while artifacts and a narration of its fall are displayed at the Long Barracks Museum and Library.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Concepción de Acuña (Mission Concepcion) was named in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Juan de Acuña, the Marqués de Casafuerte (Viceroy of Mexico) when it was transferred to the San Antonio River area.  It originally belonged to a group of six missions established to prevent the French from entering the Spanish territory.  It was founded in 1716 where modern day East Texas lies.  Since then, the mission had been transferred several times until it ended where it stands today.  Here, the missionaries administered many sacraments, practiced rituals, and made way for the acceptance of Christianity among the native American community.  To this day, Mission Concepcion is considered to be the most preserved in the San Antonio historical park.  Although most of its surface has faded or worn out, there are still three rooms that clearly show frescos, intricate art forms, which were believed to cover most of its interior and its exterior as well back in its early days.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada was originally founded in 1690 as Mission San Franciso de los Tejas.  It was moved to the San Antonio river in 1731 and was renamed de la Espada. What’s unique about this mission is its still functional irrigation system that includes the Espada dam and aqueduct, which dates back 2 centuries ago.

Mission San Jose was founded by Father Antonio Margil de Jesus in 1720, and is considered to be the largest among the five missions.  In its height, it supported 300 inhabitants with its vast fields and herds of livestock, which is why it was also known as the Queen of the Missions.  The main attraction of the mission is the San Jose Church, with its very notable façade which includes the sculptures of the Saint Anne holding the baby Mary and San Joacquin on either side, its intricately designed door, and the famous Rose Window.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded 1716.  Similar to Mission San Francisco, and Mission Concepcion, it was also moved from East Texas to the San Antonio river in 1731.  The mission itself was self-sustaining, and it served the San Antonio missions by providing agricultural products and livestock.  It had such a thriving economy that it was able to outlast epidemics and Indian attacks in its final years.