San Antonio Missions
Spanish Mission System of Colonial Texas

The Spanish Mission System of Colonial Texas

The Spanish began to colonize the area north of the Rio Grande as early as 1690. The Franciscan missions and presidios built there were designed to expand and protect the Spanish empire’s northern frontier as well as to convert Native Americans to Christianity. All of the missions were centered around grand churches and conventos.

In San Antonio, Texas, a mission trail extends eight miles along the San Antonio River and connects a chain of missions. Today, the San Antonio Missions represent the largest collection of Spanish Colonial missions in the United States. These historic sites became the foundation for the city of San Antonio. The missions were designed to be defensive, with residences and gates forming the protective enclosure around the central quadrangles. Their elaborate façades were designed in Spanish Colonial, Late Baroque, Moorish, Renaissance, and Romanesque architectural styles.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Located along the San Antonio River in Texas, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park encompasses four 18th-century Spanish Colonial missions and an elaborate infrastructure:
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, the Espada Aqueduct and Dam, and four acequias, or irrigation ditches that transported water.

Mission San José: Queen of the Missions

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is the largest and most famous of the San Antonio Missions. It was founded in 1720 by Fray Antonio Marqil de Jesus and was a major social and cultural center. The mission is famous for the Rose Window, la Ventana de Rosa, which was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in the 1930s and by CyArk in 2010. The Rose Window is a fine example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation and a reminder of the grandeur of the missions.

Mission Concepción

Mission Concepción is the oldest unrestored stone church in America. Founded in 1716 and relocated to its current location in 1731, the limestone church was designed in the Spanish Colonial architectural style and took nearly twenty years to build with the help of the Native Americans residing at the missions. This mission was the center of many religious festivals and the main façade was once covered in painted frescos much like the ones preserved on the walls inside the church and convent.

Mission Espada

Mission San Francisco de la Espada was the first mission to be established in Texas. Originally located in east Texas, Mission Espada was relocated to San Antonio in 1731. Meaning “St. Francis of the Sword,” the mission was named for St. Francis of Assisi who founded the Francisco order.

Mission San Juan

Mission San Juan Capistrano is located along the east bank of the San Antonio River. Mission San Juan was a self-sufficient community with rich farm and pasture lands that supplied produce throughout the region.

Digital Preservation

The historic buildings of the San Antonio Missions fell into decline after the missionaries left in 1824, and underwent government restoration in the 1930s. Today, the four missions within the park are active parish churches, and all five sites are open to the general public under the stewardship of the National Park Service.

In the spring of 2010, CyArk and the National Park Service jointly collaborated to digitally preserve the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. The resulting data has since been used to create media for physical preservation work, education, and virtual tourism.


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