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San Antonio Missions

Our visit to the Alamo and San Antonio Missions National Historical Park took place on Palm Sunday. What a wonderful day to see the historic mission churches and celebrate their history! In addition to the Alamo, there are four missions along the banks of the San Antonio River which compose San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Each of the mission churches are still active parishes today. As proud Texans, we hope you will enjoy our tour of the only UNESCO World Heritage Site in our state. 

 Our first stop was the Alamo. 

The Alamo

Mision San Antonio de Valero. The Alamo (which means cottonwood in Spanish) is located in downtown San Antonio, Texas. Contrary to what most believe, the entire compound, what is left of it, is the mission. The building pictured above is the mission church which is universally recognized as the Alamo. Built by Spanish missionaries, the church and mission date to 1718. The Battle of the Alamo took place here in 1836. Although the Mexican army won the battle, it was significant in the events leading to Texas gaining independence from Mexico. The mission was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The Alamo is included as part of the San Antonio Missions UNESCO World Heritage Site, though it is not part of the national historical park. The Alamo is owned and managed by the State of Texas. 

Travel tip: no photography of any kind is allowed inside the church.

Beautiful tree on the mission grounds. We had to wonder what this tree has witnessed in all of its years here. Just under the bottom branch in the center-right of the shot is the mission’s water well.
This building, which is located on the mission grounds, houses “The Alamo: A Story Bigger Than Texas” exhibit featuring artifacts from the Alamo and the Phil Collins Texana collections. While there is no fee to enter the church building or grounds, there is a fee to enter this building, and advance tickets are recommended.

Free timed tickets are required to enter the mission church and can be obtained from the kiosk in Alamo Plaza or online at: https://www.thealamo.org/visit/calendar/alamo-free-timed-entry

Travel tip: we got our exhibit tickets and timed entry tickets for the church online and included them as part of our itinerary to save time upon arrival.  

The Alamo Cenotaph (south side)

The Alamo Cenotaph is a monument commemorating the Battle of the Alamo and honors those who fought in the battle. Its actual name is Spirit of Sacrifice. The stunning sculpture by Texas artist Pompeo Coppini is sixty feet tall, forty feet long, twelve feet wide, and stands adjacent to the mission at Alamo Plaza. On the east and west sides, the bas relief sculptures depict the leaders of the battle. Names of some of the Texans (then known as Texians) who fought there are engraved into the granite near the base. The monument was dedicated in September of 1940.

West side
East side
North side

And speaking of historic buildings, we are including some interesting facts about the Emily Morgan Hotel which interests many who visit the Alamo.

The Emily Morgan is a registered Texas Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977

Opened in 1924 as a medical arts building with doctors offices and hospital facilities, the building served its original purpose until 1976 when it was updated to house modern office spaces. In 1984 the site became the Emily Morgan Hotel. In 2012, after undergoing major renovations, it became a Hilton Doubletree Hotel but kept the name Emily Morgan. An unusual feature of the exquisite building is its gargoyles depicting different medical ailments. The building sits just north of Alamo plaza so its grounds, which were once part of the mission, saw the deaths of hundreds of men. The hotel is said to be one the most haunted places in San Antonio. 

Ever heard the song “Yellow Rose of Texas”? Legend has it that Emily (West) Morgan was the Yellow Rose of Texas. Read all about it here: https://officialalamo.medium.com/who-was-the-yellow-rose-of-texas-750c95617241

San Antonio Missions

Our second stop was Mission Concepcion which sits in a residential neighborhood a few miles south of San Antonio’s downtown area.   

Full name: Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion

Mission Concepcion, which dates to 1755, is the only unrestored stone church in America. As with all of the Spanish missions, its purpose was to convert native people to Christianity and integrate them into communities where they could be taught trades and farming in order to become self-sufficient. The mission was originally established in east Texas, however the Franciscan priests, who wanted to bring the native people into Spanish culture, chose to move away from the French influences of what is now Louisiana. This site of Mission Concepcion was chosen in 1731, and it took about 15 years to complete the buildings.

Mission Concepcion. Note the water well in the left-center foreground. Each of the missions have a similar well.

The mission church and convento (building complex where missionaries, visitors, some residents, and the parish priest resided on the mission grounds) boast of their 250-year-old frescoes which are beautifully preserved today. The outside of the church was also once painted with bright colors, but those have been erased over time. Interestingly, the stone for this mission was quarried on its own grounds. While the Mission Concepcion church was constructed in the Spanish Colonial style, some Moorish features were also incorporated, such as this pretty archway and stairwell outside of the church. This nook was so unexpected, we had to wonder if it was original to the mission.

Because services were being conducted while we were visiting Mission Concepcion, we were unable to enter the church.

Our third stop was Mission San Jose. The national park visitor center is located here and provides helpful information about all of the missions. 

Full name: Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo
Founded in 1720, the San Jose Mission and Church were completed in 1782. We arrived just as Palm Sunday services were ending.
Luckily, we were able to get a picture of the beautiful sanctuary, though the church was crowded with parishioners and other tourists. It was the only one of the mission churches that we were able to photograph inside.

Mission San Jose was our favorite of the four missions. It is also the most restored, with the majority of the restorations having been completed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) which gave unemployed young men work relief during the Great Depression. Approximately 80% of the church is original.

Convento and water well. The white edges above the stone arches are where roofs once were.
Housing for the native residents of the mission. Each home has two small rooms and a tiny fireplace. Eighty-four of these “apartments” encompass the mission grounds.

San Jose Mission was touted as the Queen of the Missions. While it was not constructed as a fort, the mission was said to be as secure as any fort of the day, thereby protecting its residents against attacks by hostile outsiders.

Granary completed in 1755 and restored in the1930s

Our fourth stop was Mission San Juan, which was a little disappointing at first glance because we thought the church was new. Once we began our trek around the mission grounds, we found out we were wrong!

Full Name: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Similar to Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan’s humble beginnings were in east Texas in 1716. The original mission, Mission San Jose de los Nazonis, was established to serve Nozonis Indians in the area, but the mission failed, so it was reestablished in its current location in 1731 and renamed Mission San Juan Capistrano. The mission suffered misfortune in its new location too. Epidemic diseases such as smallpox and measles killed many of the natives. Attacks by hostile bands of Apache and Comanche Indians also plagued the mission. These adversities caused some of the inhabitants to leave mission life behind and return to their nomadic lifestyle.

Mission San Juan Church dates to 1772 and is the mission’s second church. The stone walls were covered in plaster in 1984, and other preservation measures were completed in 2012.

Construction of a third church was begun in 1775 but was never completed because of the decline in the population of the mission.

Unfinished church dates to 1775 with some restoration in the mid 20th century

The native people who built and lived at this mission were farmers of food and fiber. They also made tools and cloth which, along with the crops, enabled trade that helped sustain the community. By 1762, about 203 people were residing at the mission. Remains of several farm tracts and an irrigation system can be found near the mission, as well as a dam which is not open to the public. The national park operates a demonstration farm for visitors today, using the same irrigation system (acequia) and growing the same types of crops.

Convento, restored in the 1960s

Our fifth and final stop was Mission Espada which was our second favorite of the four San Antonio missions. 

Full name: San Francisco de la Espada

Mission Espada is the oldest of the Texas missions, having been founded in 1690. As with other missions it was established first in east Texas but was reestablished in its current location near the banks of the San Antonio River in 1731.

Mission Espada Church, completed in 1756

The residents of Mission Espada made bricks, some of which can still be seen in the mission’s structures. Residents of Espada also made tiles, wove cloth, made tools, and raised crops and livestock.

This arched entryway to the mission shows the brickwork
Ruins of some of the original mission buildings

Espada also had an aqueduct which still exists today and diverts water from the San Antonio River to the mission and its farmland. A portion of the aqueduct is pictured above as it crosses Piedras Creek, and below is the acequia (irrigation canal). This acequia is still used by people who live near Espada.

For more information about San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, click here: https://www.nps.gov/saan/index.htm 

That’s going to be all for this trip. We are thrilled that you stopped by our site, and we hope you return again for another great road trip, Quick Stop, Wish We Were There Wednesday weekly post, or a travel tip or two. We post for you, and we would love to hear about your road trips so feel free to leave us a comment below. Please like our site and become a follower so you never miss a post. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter. Until the next trip… Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

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