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Multi-Part Tour through the Spanish Missions of San Antone June 8, 2017

Posted by Tantumblogo in Admin, Art and Architecture, awesomeness, Basics, catachesis, Christendom, General Catholic, history, sanctity, Tradition, true leadership, Virtue.

So this past weekend, after probably close to 100 lifetime visits to the San Antonio area, I finally went and visited the four Spanish Mission parishes that are still extant in the southern part of town.  Yes there is technically a fifth, San Antonio de Valero aka The Alamo, but that site has nothing of a religious character left to it and is always annoyingly crowded.

I took a lot of pictures, and want to give some assessment both of the history of each mission – especially it’s liturgical history and changes since the Council – and its current state, so I will cover one mission each in a post on a different day.  First up, the first we went to Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, aka Mission Concepcion.  I’ll sort of scroll through with some pics and provide a rolling commentary:

Mission Concepcion was begun in San Antonio in 1731.  The actual mission building you see above was started in 1740 and completed in 1755.  Of all the San Antonio missions, Mission Concepcion is by far the most architecturally intact, having been built on bedrock, in never experienced near total collapse as several other of the missions did during the period of their abandonment and neglect from circa late 1790s to 1880s.  What you see above is largely how it would have appeared in its heyday, except for the missing white plaster/stucco and some architectural ornaments which have been lost.

The nicho above is empty, but probably held a statue at one time. Unfortunately during the long years of neglect many features of the buildings were damaged, destroyed, or stolen, including entire sets of 18 foot solid cedar doors.

Inscriptions above the main doors.  Details like this from the other missions have been loss due to the disrepair into which they fell.  But here the inscription is still largely legible though it fails to make sense to me.  Perhaps some parts are missing?

It is known that the interiors and exteriors of all the missions were covered with extensive painted frescoes done by local Indian artisans.  These details were lost on other missions due to their decay, but remain at least a little intact at Mission Concepcion.  All of these are interior frescoes, any exterior painting was lost long ago along with the stucco:

“Brother sun?”  Also perhaps a representation of the Holy Spirit.

Vandalism and lack of care caused the vast majority of the frescoes to be lost.  I was shocked how many statues had their heads shot off by bonehead Texans, Mexicans, or Tejanos back in the day.

The above is a small side chapel.

Main part of the church.  The walls have been repainted.  The sanctuary has been extensively remodeled/wreckovated.  As you will see in later posts, sometimes the high altars were permitted to remain, sometimes portions of them were removed to side chapels, and sometimes they were entirely ripped out.  The huge stone (concrete?) base of the original high altar here remains but little else.  A new table altar fronts the altar of the Immemorial Mass which was offered in these sacred buildings for decades.  At least some altar rail remains though I doubt it is ever used.

That’s definitely 18th-century era Spanish or New World Latin American painting, or a good replica.  I suspect it is genuine, but almost certainly not original to any of the missions, as most such movable art was lost years ago.

It is good to see tabernacles in all the main chapels, which held the Blessed Sacrament.  All the missions are still active parishes.

Looking back to choir loft, which is no longer used.  It is occupied with AC ducts.

Over 250 year old hand-painted Indian art.  Quite good.

Don’t know for certain, but I suspect this may be the Mission’s original altar crucifix, or a near-period piece.  It is definitely Spanish Colonial and I love the polychrome.  Is polychrome even done anymore?  It gives such a wonderful, durable finish!

Period statue.  Our Lady, but bare-headed?  I originally thought an angel, but there are angels under her feet.  I guess it’s Our Lady.

Excellent and I am quite certain original period painting of St. Francis.  Probably mid-18th century. Heavily stained with candle smoke/incense.  I love it.

Ancient baptistry.  It has drain holes, not sure how they recovered the holy water?

You can see the extreme effects 250+ years of South Texas heat, humidity, and pollution has had on the exterior.  Some portions have had to be buttressed with concrete, but most of the structure is original, unlike the other missions, which are mostly reproductions added back since the 1930s.

I don’t think either the chest/stand or tabernacle are period pieces.  This one was empty.

It is amazing to consider that all of this was built with Indian labor using nothing but simple hand tools, fulcrums, block and tackle, etc,. and that it has survived as well as it has.  The period of neglect was almost total, most of the missions were completely abandoned with Masses only held irregularly, if ever, no permanently assigned staff, no money, no maintenance, and general abandonment for extensive periods of time.  That they exist at all is an amazing testament to the Spanish design and native craftsmanship.  Though she has long been besmirched and derided in the Anglosphere, Catholic Spain continues to give, and generously, to the entire world and especially the Western Hemisphere.

And that is all.  More detail on the other missions.

There were varying levels of crowds at all the missions, with the “main mission” of Mission San Jose being the most consistently crowded.  There are not very many folks at the least modified, liturgically speaking – Mission San Juan Capistrano, my personal favorite.  We’ll hit that one next.  God willing.



1. Michael - June 8, 2017

Dear Tantum,

Delightful post. For many years I have heard of the Missions but never had the opportunity to visit, I’m a NY-er. Good pix. Thanks.
For what it is worth, Tantum, I’d like to suggest/make 2 observations.
The statue you opine may be an Angel–rt. side above(?) a Sanctuary Candle–Appears to be Our Blessed Lady. It is “classic pose” and there are Angels at Her feet. Both theologically and in iconography it would fit the Blessed Mother rather than an Angel, esp. with other Cherubs around the feet. Don’t know but it seems more likely the case. Re “Baptismal Font”, I would suggest that it is rather a Holy Water stoup. Baptismal Fonts from centuries ago are free standing, either circular or octagonal predominately. What are the “holes”? Not a clue, unless it was to facilitate cleaning or the taking of larger amounts to one’s home. But I really doubt it would have served as a “Font”—if for no other reason than there is no room for all to see or “participate” in the ceremonies. And with the Mexican/Hispanic custom of multiple Godparents it would not have gone over well, esp. as one of the points of the Rite is the Sponsor(s) touching the infant at the appointed time………..Just some reflections. Hope it might help. Am looking forward to the other installments. Thanks. God bless and keep you and your family, and esp. your wife for “sacrificing” her other half in blogging for the good of the Church! Bravo(a)…Keep it up. Oremus pro invicem……

Tantumblogo - June 9, 2017

The staff said they were holy water fonts. But they may be wrong. Maybe not for baptism, but only for blessing. I don’t know if expedients of being on a frontier caused their to be exceptions from the standard practice you describe.

As for the statue, you’re probably right, but her head was bare which made me think maybe an angel. But I’ll update the post.

Ellis Country - June 9, 2017

I think that may be a statue of the Immaculate Conceptiom, in this case patron saint of the parish. It reminds me of a white marble statue (Italian) in our old parish Church (Waxahachie). Angels underfoot and bareheaded, hands in prayer looking up to heaven. I think the fact that she is bareheaded relates to her gift of being immaculately conceived, I would welcome the expert explanation.

2. skeinster - June 9, 2017

Nice. Mr. S. did the tour the last time he was in S.A.
He had some things to say about buildings being allowed to deteriorate…

A tiny thing- all the interior wall artwork are frescoes. Mosaics are composed ot little ceramic tiles. Ever seen the Spanish American colonial art room at the DMA? Some really beautiful things in there.

Tantumblogo - June 9, 2017

Shoot I knew that. Dangit now I got to go fix it.

3. Tim - June 9, 2017

We were on vacation in New Mexico last weekend and saw some beautiful churches in Santa Fe. We attended the Traditional Mass at San Miguel Mission, thr oldest church in the USA, built in 1610. Also went to the Loretto Chapel where St. Joseph’s miraculous staircase is. Tragically that order went down in 1968 (imagine that!, right during the height of the “renewal”). Also saw the cathedral, unfortunately there was a Novus Ordo Confirmation going on and the music drove us crazy. Overall, lovely churches.

4. DM - June 9, 2017

Always interesting and beautiful to see the old Spanish missions, who were likely the world’s greatest evangelizers.

If you ever get the chance, you have to see San Xavier del Bac Mission in Tucson. It’s been preserved better and is spectacular.

5. MFG - June 9, 2017

Beautiful pictures Tantum – thanks for sharing. Have you also visited the closest mission church to DFW? St. Francis in Waco? Technically it’s not a mission Church of the 18th century… It’s probably the last Mission Church in Texas and the murals are quite beautiful (minus the barren sanctuary). Maybe you’ve passed by there already…


6. Camper - June 9, 2017

What a nice article, Tantum! You deserve pay for this kind of article!

Tim - June 9, 2017


7. Carlos - June 10, 2017

Inscription reads:

An internet search leads to a book called San Antonio Missions National Historical Park which on page 22 gives the missing word as ESTAS, which makes sense, and also offers a translation similar to:
“This mission serves its Patroness and Princess and defends the doctrine of her purity with these arms”

“Arms” might perhaps be understood as “means”, though for all I know perhaps it does refer to physical weapons. I was not familiar with the use of the word punto (point) as “doctrine”, but I guess it makes sense.

8. Start Sacred Heart Novena today! | A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - June 14, 2017

[…] from time to time.  For instance I definitely plan to post on the 3 San Antonio Spanish Missions I have not covered, […]

9. Multi-Part Tour through the Spanish Missions of San Antone: Part II, Mission | A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics - June 14, 2017

[…] The first part covered Mission Concepion, this post covers Mission San Francisco de la Espada. […]

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