Historic wooden building in Great Smoky Mountains National Park (left) photograph courtesy of the National Park Service. San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico (right) photograph courtesy of the National Park Service.
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World Heritage Sites in the United States

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio, Texas
 
Long House Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde. Photo by Shealah Craighead, courtesy the White HouseView atop
Photo by Shealah Craighead, courtesy the White House

The San Antonio Missions tell the stories of the people who came into the Spanish missions to live in the 1700s. Acculturating and converting the indigenous population in order to become Spanish citizens reverberates today in the southwest United States. Our history is part of who we were, who we are, and who we will be. The park contains four missions: Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo, and Mission San Juan Capistrano  

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, commonly called Mission Concepción, is a National Historic Landmark and is part of a story of global and regional conflicts. Mission Concepción was one of the missions authorized by the Spanish government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French invasion from Louisiana into Spanish territory. Mission Concepción faced a number of pressures from the beginning that eventually led to its relocation. Even at its new site along the San Antonio River, Indians and missionaries faced problems including disease, raids, and the challenges of diverse groups of Indians living and working together. Today visitors can see the remnants of this time period at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park unit that preserves the domed church with its elegant stonework and painted decorations.

Balcony House dwellings at Mesa Verde. Photo courtesy of the National Park ServiceMission San Francisco de la Espada.
By National Park Service [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons

Mission San Francisco de la Espada

Southernmost of the San Antonio missions, Mission San Francisco de la Espada is neither as elaborate nor as large as the other missions in the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, but its unique history and well-preserved acequia system set Mission Espada apart. Beginning in 1731 Mission Espada became a hub of agricultural activity on the west bank of the San Antonio River for Spanish, Mexican, and Coahuiltecan Indian groups such as the Pacao, Borrado, and Mariquita. During this time, an extensive irrigation and aqueduct system was built and has continually been in use since. Plagued by raids, desertion, and disease, the mission never grew very large, and it began to be secularized in 1794, a process that was completed by 1824. Its purpose no longer to convert native peoples, the mission became a local parish for Spanish and Mexican settlers and later a Catholic school. Extensive restoration and rebuilding have kept the buildings of the former mission in use through the 20th century, and today, Mission Espada is cared for by the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the National Park Service.

Long House Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde. Photo by Shealah Craighead, courtesy the White HousePreservation of the old mission is an ongoing challenge.
NPS photo

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, known as the "Queen of the Missions," was the largest of the San Antonio missions and was viewed as the model among Spanish missions in Texas. At its height, Mission San José was a sustaining agricultural community and cultural center with Coahuiltecan groups working and living at the site. The mission today is the third site of a community first established in 1720 in east Texas. It was moved to its current location on the west bank of the San Antonio River around 1739. After several years of construction, the church was completed in 1782. Over the next few decades, the population at the mission decreased. Eventually San José was completely secularized in1824.

Mission San José was established in a region lived in by the nomadic Coahuiltecans. The mission changed the lifestyle of the native people in the area by converting them into settled agriculturalists. The creation and ongoing maintenance of the mission brought together the indigenous mission inhabitants and the missionaries, leading to an exceptional interchange of cultures. The native peoples did not accept the change to their lifestyle passively and often deserted the mission.

Balcony House dwellings at Mesa Verde. Photo courtesy of the National Park ServiceMission San Juan Capistrano with prickly pear
in the foreground.

NPS photo.

Mission San Juan Capistrano  

Originally founded by Franciscan missionaries in 1716, the eastern Texas Mission San Juan Capistrano was transferred in 1731 to its present location in San Antonio, about 12 miles from The Alamo. In 1756, the stone church, a friary, and a granary were completed. A larger church was begun, but was abandoned when half complete, the result of population decline. Today the mission is administered by the National Park Service and the Archdiocese of San Antonio. Visitors can explore the park's exhibits, old stone mission church, and well-preserved irrigation system that fed the mission's fields.

In 1716 in the woods of East Texas, Mission San José de los Nazonis was established to serve the Nazonis Indians. The mission was not successful, and whatever was transportable was moved to the current location on the San Antonio River. On March 5, 1731, the mission was reestablished on the east bank of the San Antonio River and renamed San Juan Capistrano. In the new location, epidemics of smallpox, measles, and other European disease swept through the mission, causing much suffering and death among the native inhabitants. Early on bands of raiding Apaches, and later Comanche, threatened the community. At times, when food was bountiful and danger was low outside the protective walls, some of the mission Indians left, returning to their hunting and gathering practices, much to the chagrin of the Franciscans.

 

Plan your visit

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is composed of four missions located in separae locations in San Antonio, TX. Click for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. Mission San José and the visitor center are located at 6701 San José Dr. Mission Concepcion is located at 807 Mission Rd.; Mission San Juan is located at 9101 Graf Rd., and Mission Espada is located at 10040 Espada Rd. All sites at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, except on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day and during special services such as weddings and funerals. There are no admission fees. For more information, visit the National Park Service San Antonio Missions National Historical Park website or call 210-932-1001.  

Mission Espada and Mission Concepcion have been designated as National Historic Landmarks.Many components of the National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, including Mission San Juan. The San Antonio Missions are also featured in the National Park Service Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary,  South and West Texas Travel Itinerary, the Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Cultures: Explore their Stories in the National Park System Travel Itinerary and the American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is also the subject of the online lesson plan, San Antonio Missions: Spanish Influence in Texas. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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