The Missions of San Antonio Recount Spanish History

Article excerpt

bells of the Mission San José in San Antonio, ft®Texas, rang far before the Liberty Bell was ever cast. Yet this reality had been obscured - or at least until recently - by historical accounts that concentrated mostly on the English settlement of the United States.

Standing along the San Antonio River, with four other Catholic missions, the Mission San José on reminds visitors that the Spanish played a significant and central role in the creation of our country7. The mission was established in 1720 - prior to the Liberty Bell's ringing to mark the first reading of the Declaration of independence on July 8,1776 - and now is a part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

Today, this park of 10-mile linio» throughout San Antonio attracts 35,000 students and almost two million visitors a year. They come to see five separate missions-the Alamo, San José, San Juan, Concepción, and Espada - that contain magnificent stone churches, buildings, and fortresses dating back to the 18 th century7.

"These were all built in the 18th century and Spain's reason for doing this was to make this [part of] Spain," said Tom Castaños, education and youth initiative coordinator of the park. "It is easy to come here and see these magnificent churches that are about religion. But these were built by Spain to make a bigger kingdom- about creating communities so they could convert the native people to Catholicism and become Spanish. This gave the king an opportunity to tap into a willing workforce, in terms of Franciscan friars, who wanted to be out here to spread the gospel, but they also worked as administrators and teachers."

Mission San José became a center for native people by 1760, forty years after its establishment. The natives were traditionally seasonal hunters who moved up and down the river to find food, but the Spanish provided them with another option: farming, Catholicism, and living a sedentary7 life. The Spanish taught the natives culture, religion, and vocations within the San José walled community made up of apartment cells that were protected from raiding tribes.

Mission San José was home to the first grist mill, which grinds dour from wheat that was first brought to the Americas by the Spaniard. And this mission became one of the largest Spanish mission communities until 1824, when it was secularized and turned over to the people.

The Alamo, probably the most famous mission, was originally called San Antonio de Valero, but was then later named The Alamo after it became the focal point of the Battle of the Alamo, fought between Mexico and Texas in the Texas Revolution. This was the first mission established along the San Antonio River valley, founded two years before San Jose.

The other three missions within San Antonio Missions Historical Park-San Juan, Concepción, and Espada - were originally founded in East Texas, but were largely unsuccessful there. East Texas Indians were magnificent farmers and they had plenty without relying on Spanish assistance. These missions were therefore moved to the San Antonio river area in the early 1730s, and they brought with them statues, farming tools, and other equipment and movable items. By 1731, five missions were running successfully on the river valley.

"Elements of the mission process were highly successful as far as the natives learning the technology' and being a part of the culture," said Castaños. "The least successful part was the government part of it. Spain was in a military free fall for a hundred years, and these places did not produce a lot in trade or gold, so they were not profitable. …