Law & Theory

The San Antonio missions followed a clear series of steps to become missions. There was a natural pattern from the initial gathering to a secular village.

The role of the missionary was to bring the indigenous Indian groups into the body of Christianity and Spanish society. This was accomplished by a long-term effort divided into several administrative phases:

  1. Misión. This was the simple establishment of a missionary effort directed towards a particular group of Indians. It was set up in one of two basic patterns. The congregación was established for Indians who already lived sedentary lives in a fixed village system. The reducción was an artificial village established by the missionary for Indians who had no fixed place of residence;they would be brought, or "reduced," to the new mission. The reducción used for the hunter-gatherer Indians of the San Antonio area.
  2. Conversión. Once established under the guidance of a missionary, he needed to convince the Indians to accept living in this community. The misión would then become a conversión;indoctrination was the goal. Indoctrination of these Indians (called "neophytes" once in the mission) continued until they were considered capable of maintaining themselves in a Christian lifestyle on their own. To the missionary, a Christian lifestyle meant conducting daily life in a Spanish manner, observing behavior expected of all Christian citizens of Spain and its Empire. This acculturation effort (Spanish language, lifeways, and skills) paralleled the effort to construct a permanent structure for the mission. When the neophyte community of the mission reached the point of being comfortable in the new language and lifestyle, the mission sometimes went to its next phase.
  3. Doctrina. In this step, the missionary surrendered management of the secular activities to a local government. Indian ex-neophytes made up the government, usually under the supervision of a public official. The missionary might continue the religious training, or a secular priest was appointed in his place to be the doctrinero. Under a missionary, the community received support from the Franciscan missionary system for the upkeep of the church, friary, and other religious structures. The acculturated inhabitants of a doctrina were subject to taxes, tribute, and tithes by the secular government and the secular church. While they were neophytes, they were not subject to these taxes.
  4. Paralleling the creation of the doctrina was "partial secularization," or "temporal secularization." The missionary effectively became a parish priest, no longer controlling daily life. Most examples of which we know are the result of government action to secularize, rather than from within the religious order operating a mission. At this point an inventory was conducted of the houses, land, tools, and herds, which were divided among the residents of the mission. The missionary kept the church and his residential area. The local civil authority assigned an administrator, or alcalde,to act as advisor and protector of the Indians in their temporal affairs. There was no significant difference between the partially secularized mission and the doctrina. When the missionary felt that the religious training of the community was completed, or when political expediency dictated, they advanced to the next stage.
  5. Curato. Missionary activity ceased at the community. The church and other religious buildings were turned over to the bishop of the secular church responsible for the region. The mission community became fully secularized, and was regarded as a new pueblo (town). The missionary and the secular priest carried out a final inventory of the church and sacristy. Undistributed lands were returned to the king's land, the realengas, and made available for distribution among those qualified to receive them.


Edited excerpts from the original work “Of Various Magnificence” by Jake Ivey, NPS 2007
Chapter 1: The Mission Frontier in Texas

Last updated: September 23, 2016

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