Antonio Tello (1740-1744)

The Design of the San Antonio Missions

While no documentation of the hiring of Antonio Tello has been uncovered yet, it is highly unlikely a master mason would have come to San Antonio on his own just as the missionaries needed one. About 1740, the Zacatecas Franciscans hired the young master mason to take on the huge task of designing and building the four churches of Querétaran San Antonio.

Upon his arrival in Texas, he immediately set about creating his designs. He was about to attempt the rather incredible feat of directing the construction of the four major Querétaran churches at the same time. During the same period, he was apparently hired part-time to design and direct the construction of the parish church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe in the Villa de San Fernando (the original name of San Antonio). Tello’s plan for the churches seems to be typical of the style common in Mexico in the 1730s.

Tello probably designed permanent churches for all four missions over the next year. By 1741 he had his work crews begin construction on Concepción. In 1744 the crews began work on San Antonio de Valero (they laid the cornerstone for the above-ground walls of Valero on May 8) and San Francisco de la Espada. Then, in August, 1744, Tello fled San Antonio after allegedly murdering his lover’s husband.

Work stopped on the churches of Valero, Concepción, and Espada, and apparently the parish church of Candelaria as well. In 1745, the church at Concepción was described as half-built and at Valero as just begun. The permanent church of Espada had foundation trenches excavated, but the foundations themselves only half-built. Most of the sacristy for Espada’s new church was built, and later became its temporary church, the church of Espada today. No work on the church of San Juan designed by Tello was ever undertaken, so far as archeology and documents can tell.

It appears that Tello produced a single church plan, changing the scale and facade slightly for each church. Each had a facade with the same basic style but differing in its decorative elements and details. However, only Concepción was completed, virtually unchanged from Tello’s original design. Most of the above-grade construction at Valero was the work of later architects, but the plan, foundations, and central portion of the facade followed Tello’s design, and include some of his original carved stonework.

Simultaneously, he apparently began other projects at the missions, including massive stone granaries intended to be vaulted, the arched stone aqueduct of the Espada irrigation system, and the arcaded corridor for the convento at San José. Evidence suggests that Tello was not doing anything unusual in this; most of the architects who worked in San Antonio appear to have carried out a number of projects at the same time at different missions.

Tello Leaves Town in a Hurry

On the evening of August 21, 1744, the alcalde ordinario of San Fernando, Alberto Lopez Aguado y Villafuerte, was called to the house of Jeronimo Flores, where Matias Treviño lay mortally wounded with a bullet wound through his arm and body. Treviño died about four o’clock the next morning, but not before accusing the master mason Antonio Tello of having shot him. Tello was having an affair with Treviño’s wife, Rosa Guerra, who, in Treviño’s presence, had asked Tello to kill him.

Aguado y Villafuerte sent four soldiers to the mission of San Antonio de Valero to arrest Tello. There they found he had taken refuge in the temporary church of Valero. Aguado y Villafuerte stationed guards around the cemetery and church of the mission, with orders to arrest Tello if he came out. The next day the alcalde went into the church with the permission of Fray Mariano de los Dolores y Biana, the minister of Valero, to take Tello’s testimony.

Tello denied everything, claiming that he had thought Treviño was an Apache attacking him, and had shot him in what he thought was self-defense. Only later that night did he hear that it had been Treviño. He insisted this was the truth even when Aguado y Villafuerte pointed out that he had been so close that there were powder burns on Treviño’s shirt, and even in the wound itself. Aguado y Villafuerte didn’t even ask about how it was that Treviño had been struck on the head several times with a gun barrel. Tello further denied any relationship with Rosa Guerra.

Enquiries revealed that the affair between Rosa Guerra and Tello had been so blatant that Treviño had gotten a court order on three different occasions to have Tello removed from the house. Guerra herself had been removed from the house of Jeronimo Flores several times while meeting Tello there. Other informants revealed that Tello had built her a house at his own expense, helped, oddly enough, by the curate of San Antonio, Father Juan Recio de Leon.

Based on this evidence, and Treviño’s testimony that Guerra had asked Tello to kill him, Aguado y Villafuerte had Rosa Guerra arrested on August 23. He questioned her, and like Tello she denied everything. Aguado y Villafuerte decided that the testimony of various witnesses and the dead man was overwhelming and requested Captain Torihio de Urrutia, commander of the Presidio, to petition Fray Mariano de los Dolores y Biana that Tello be remanded to Aguado y Villafuerte’s custody for trial.

On the 24th, Aguado y Villafuerte received Dolores y Biana’s permission to remove Tello from the sanctuary of the church of San Antonio de Valero. He went to the mission to make the arrest, and found that, in spite of the guards he had set, Tello had escaped during the night of the 23rd. Aguado y Villafuerte sent a warrant to the Presidio de San Juan Bautista, where the Camino Real crossed the Rio Grande River, requesting that the Captain of that presidio arrest Tello if he was seen there. Antonio Tello was apparently never caught.

The last note in the file, dated September 3, 1744, said that Rosa Guerra was being held pending trial. The results of that trial are not on record in the Bexar Archives.

Edited excerpts from the original work “Of Various Magnificence” by Jake Ivey, NPS 2007
Chapter 2: Development and Construction of a Mission on the Texas Frontier

Last updated: December 22, 2016

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