Builder Expertise

Where did the expertise come from to carry out the many tasks associated with construction of the mission buildings? In parts of Mexico and in New Mexico, the missionaries themselves were considered to have been the repository of this knowledge. In New Mexico, the missionaries found the Pueblo Indians already using construction techniques like those used in parts of Spain; so the missionary became essentially the director of a modified construction process using the methods and skills already developed by local labor. But even in New Mexico, Spanish experts in skills as carpentry and blacksmithing were imported to train the Indians.

In Texas the Indians coming into the new missions had little background in construction, with experience in building temporary shelters at best. For the missionary to be sure that the many tasks that had to be accomplished simultaneously using unskilled labor were all carried out properly, he had to have several skilled or semiskilled supervisors to oversee the various works.

These experts were made available to the missions in a variety of ways. The initial group which established the Mission de San Antonio de Valero was expected to include a number of former mission Indians, skilled in the cultivation of the soil, to help in teaching the newly congregated how to farm. A master carpenter, blacksmith, and mason were also to be sent, at royal expense, so they might help build the churches and dwellings, and teach these trades to the Indians. It was particularly important that a good weaver accompany Fray Olivares, who could teach the Indians how to weave flax, wool, and goat hair into cloth.

Most of these requirements were met, although the names of most craftsmen are not yet known. Others are known: the accompanying military detachment which was to establish the Presidio of San Antonio de Béxar included the military engineer and surveyor Francisco Barreiro, and the carpenter Santiago Perez. A number of former mission Indians from Solano formed the core of the new mission population.

Masons were available to the Franciscan endeavor from the beginning. For example, Francisco de la Cruz, a Frenchman who was both a master mason and a master stone carver, accompanied the expedition to establish the presidio and mission of San Antonio de Valero in 1718. Several other masons lived at Mission Valero during the period from 1718 to 1726. For some reason, however, these men did not supply the expertise needed to construct a major mission church. In 1727, Valero was collecting stone to begin construction on a primary church, but work could not begin until a master mason was available. This indicates that the masons known to have been in town at the time were apprentice or journeyman masons, not maestros.

With the establishment of the Zacatecan mission of San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, the need for a master mason was increased. When three of the Querétaran missions of east Texas were transferred to San Antonio in 1731, the need became acute. Franciscan authority began the process of securing a maestro for the construction of several mission churches in San Antonio.


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: September 23, 2016

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