CyArk to Digitally Preserve San Antonio Missions

by Elizabeth Lee
December 1, 2009
CyArk is proud to announce our upcoming project with the National Parks Service to digitally preserve the Missions of San Antonio. Our work at the National Historic Park will include the missions Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuna, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, San Juan de Capistrano, San Francisco de la Espada, as well as the Espada Aqueduct. The field collection will take place in the next few months and we wanted to give an overview of the Historic Park and some of the structures we will be digitally preserving.

I had the opportunity in August to visit the missions in order to plan the digital preservation work. National Parks Service's Susan Snow and Al Remley were my guides for the day, taking me to all four missions and the aqueduct in a single day.


One of the Original Frescos at Mission Concepción.
The first stop was Mission Concepción. This mission is the least altered of the Texas missions, and retains its original church and convento. It is small in comparison to some of the others but the original details make it just as impressive. Of particular note are the original frescoes. In addition to capturing the standing structure, we will be capturing recent efforts to uncover original foundations of the mission.







The Queen of the Missions, Mission San José.
After a quick tour of Concepción, we headed over to Mission San José. San José was known as the "Queen of the Missions," as it is the largest of the four and the most fully restored. Visitors can tour many different aspects from mission life, including restored living quarters, the grainery, and the oldest mill in Texas, run on waters from the San Antonio River.







The famous Rose Window at Mission San José.
Mission San José is also home to the famous Rose Window, which has now become a symbol for all of San Antonio. The sheer size of San José blew me away, especially after first visiting Concepción. With the intricate carvings on the Rose Window and the church facade, it was easy to understand why this is considered the jewel of the San Antonio Missions.







Close-up image of one of the cracks at Mission San Juan.
From the "Queen of the Missions" we took the short drive over to Mission San Juan. San Juan is surrounded by agricultural fields and feels more isolated than the first two missions I had visited. The church at San Juan faces many structural conservation challenges. Large cracks can be seen throughout the facade; most of the larger cracks are being monitored using simple monitoring devices. This mission is perhaps in the biggest need of digital preservation. The 3D data collected can be used to monitor the structures and provide structural insight in the future.







The arches of the Espada Aqueduct.
Once we had walked the grounds of Mission San Juan, we made a quick trip to the Espada Aqueduct. This small, two-arched structure spans all 195 feet of the Piedras Creek and is the only functioning Spanish Colonial aqueduct in the United States. This aqueduct has functioned for over 250 years and was part of the elaborate acequias system used for irrigation. The structure itself is simple, but I was very impressed by the historic significance of this water bridge.







Mission Espada Church and Convento.
From the aqueduct we took a short break for a traditional Tex Mex lunch in San Antonio. After some very filling enchiladas and a side of white bread, we headed out to visit the final mission in our tour. When we came upon Mission Espada I felt as though they had saved the best for last. This mission is actively inhabited and maintained by Franciscans. The church and convento are surrounded by lush landscaping, and the mission feels very alive. In addition to the beauty of the mission, there are several active conservation areas, including ongoing work on the bastion. Digital preservation will aide in these conservation efforts, as well as capture the interesting structures and history of the site.

Having completed my tour of the missions, we headed back to the NPS offices to discuss our plans for digital preservation. We are looking forward to our upcoming on-site capture. Check back for future updates and blogs from the field.