Last Wednesday, PJ and I were sitting in our favorite Mexican restaurant along the river walk in San Antonio, Casa Rio, looking at a publicity magazine while eating lunch. We were looking for something to do for an hour or two before having to go back to my sister’s house and hang out with our family and her in-laws.

My eye was caught by the brochure’s brief description of the Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna, which it simply described as the oldest of the eighteenth-century Spanish missions in the San Antonio area. The magazine wasn’t very clear on how far away the mission was, but we decided to drive over and see what it was. After all, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see something from the eighteenth century in Texas!

First, we decided to pay another visit to the Alamo. We knew it was within walking distance of the restaurant, so we figured we should see it again before going back to our car. This is the pic we took of the front of the Alamo.

The Alamo

I have to admit that I’ve forgotten my Texas history. We had a whole year of it in seventh grade; I wanted to take a semester of it in high school but couldn’t fit it into my schedule. As a history major at TAMU, I wasn’t required to take Texas History, but I did take my senior seminar on the social history of the Texas frontier. I really enjoyed the class; we studied things like diaries of early settlers and how people made coffee on the frontier. If I had thought that there was a real future in it, I might have been tempted to become a Texas historian. But even then I realized that there couldn’t be that many jobs in the field.

Anyway, I had forgotten that the Alamo was originally a mission and that it too was built in the eighteenth century. Construction began on the mission in 1724. Unfortunately, too much of the Alamo is now dedicated to the battle for independence from Mexico in 1836. I think it would be an even better tourist site if a greater emphasis was placed on its early history and significance to San Antonio and the region. As is, it’s little more than an ideological celebration of this one moment in history, which is certainly a crucial one in Texas history, but I think the Alamo could be a lot more than just that. What it really needs is more investment.

Next, we got back into our car and drove over to the Mission Concepcion, which is fairly easy to find due to all of the signs directing you to it. The mission was originally founded in 1716, making it the oldest of the east Texas missions, and was moved to its present site in 1731. Here’s the pic I took of the front of the church. I love the palm tree and the nearly dead grass!

Mission Concepcion

One of the things I loved about this mission is that it is still a parish church and is used for services. I can’t imagine attending mass in an eighteenth-century mission. These missions were used by the Spanish as buffers against the French in Louisiana. They hoped that, by converting the native Coahuiltecans to Christianity and teaching them farming and ranching, more Spanish colonists would move to Texas, providing a line of defense against French incursions and influence.

This community-building aspect of the missions is even clearer at the Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, which was founded in 1720 and is the largest of the east Texas missions.

Mission San Jose

I took a lot of pictures of this mission. It’s a fascinating place to visit. It’s surrounded by a large stone wall. The native Indians lived in “houses” built into the wall. Here’s a picture I took of one of them:

Stone Wall Houses with Cactus

This particular one has cacti growing on the roof. Most of the houses aren’t this picturesque. They are really little hovels. There are also ovens and wells used by the inhabitants that have been preserved. The mission also has information about their agricultural techniques and development. There are lots of nooks and crannies; it’s a photographer’s paradise. The old courtyard is also beautiful.

 

San Jose courtyard

On the right side of this picture, you can see what used to be a covered hallway:

 

Mission San Jose

It’s a beautiful place to visit. We wished that it had not been so hot that day — we weren’t prepared for 90 degree weather — and that we didn’t have other obligations. Otherwise, we would have continued on to the other missions in the area. Everything about these missions is interesting — their architecture, their history, their grounds, everything. I hope we’ll be able to visit these again — and the others in the area — soon.

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