There was a “master plan” for the missions, first described in 1548 by Philip II. In fact the Franciscans selected their mission of San Juan Teotihuacan as their archetypical mission in plan and appearance for smaller missions, but by the 18th century this plan was long out of date.
It can be shown beyond doubt that drawings were used for at least some of the planning of the construction of a mission church in San Antonio. For example, in 1772 the final church of Valero was being rebuilt after collapsing about 1749 when it was almost finished. The original church had been designed and begun about 1740 by the master mason Antonio Tello. After the collapse, Hieronimo Ybarra was responsible for the redesign and the first part of the construction of the new church beginning about 1755. Ybarra was also responsible for the redesign of the facade of Valero to produce the present familiar layout, probably adapting Tello’s original design to incorporate more modern features.
No known example of a plan for any part of the missions of San Antonio has yet been found; however, a plan of an unidentified church drawn sometime in the late 1700s is available. The plan was located in the files of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) research project on the San Antonio missions, and was thought by the WPA researchers to be the plan of the mission church at Refugio, Texas.
This plan was apparently prepared as a guide for the construction of the roof of the church. It shows the outline of the stone walls of the building and indicates apparently the heights to which the walls had been built. The nave itself had stone ribs already built and was ready for a vaulting of timbers. These details are limited, and descriptive rather than specific. The plan is, in fact, not a mason’s construction plan at all, but a rough sketch of the proposed wooden roof of the church. It is the sort of drawing that a master mason would make to convey his concepts for the roof of his building to the master carpenter who would actually have to build it, applying his own expertise and methods. The plan suggests that the master mason in charge of the stonework and construction was delegating all woodwork, including roofing, to the master carpenter. The master mason probably supplied the master carpenter with this sketch plan and notes to serve as a general guideline and trusted him to work out the best structural design.
Documents pertaining to construction contracts between the San Antonio missions and individual craftsmen indicate that most of the work was carried out under a maestranza contract, in which the craftsman was hired to supply his expertise and supervision in return for a salary. Apparently he also frequently received room, board, and other considerations. With this kind of contract, the contracting agent (the mission) usually supplied the necessary labor and materials for the project. However, in the Dionicio Gonzales contract, Gonzales agreed to cover the cost of the stone, while Fray Lopez would cover the cost of the tools.
Other experts worked on the projects, too. For example, a maestro de carpentería, or master carpenter, usually built the wooden structures for the master mason. These could range from the construction of the huge, intricately carved main doors to the corbels and railings of balconies and in some cases even the roof of the church. The master carpenter “don Angel” worked for several of the missions in the 1760s, and his appearance in their various accounts indicates the general form of his contract. For example, in 1763, San Juan paid Valero for the services of the maestro carpintero Angel: “Debit 99 pesos 7 ½ reales, that this mission compensated to that [mission] of San Antonio for the master carpenter Angel.” In the accounts of Valero, the credit appeared, “Credit 99 pesos 7 ½ reales that San Juan Capistrano compensated [Valero] for the expenses of the carpenter Angel.”
Angel also appeared in the accounts of mission Espada, which paid for his horse and items of clothing, socks, and shoes in 1762, and the transportation of some of his belongings in 1763. Unfortunately, we do not know precisely what Angel did, or for how many days work he was paid. However, a hint is given by the accounts of 1762 when Valero noted: “debit 99 pesos 7 ½ reales expenses of the maestro escultor,…” The term maestro escultor in association with his title of maestro curpintero suggests that Angel may have been a sculptor in wood and, perhaps, in stone as well. He may have been making bultos. retablos, usually made out of wood, or fine-carved stonework for the missions of Valero, San Juan, and Espada where he worked in the 1760s. If he was paid two pesos a day as the stone sculptor Felipe de Santiago was in the 1750s, then the payment represents a fraction less than 50 days worth of work at San Juan. This appears to be in addition to whatever work he was doing at Valero, the payments for which do not appear in the accounts, suggesting that they were covered by a separate contract.
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