Master Masons and Franciscans

In 1683 with the creation of the College of Queretaro the Franciscans began establishing apostolic colleges for missionary endeavors on the northern frontier. Within a few years the new college began establishing missions in the almost unknown land of Texas. In 1707 the college of Queretaro created a daughter college at Zacatecas. The colleges were intended to improve missionary methods and direct efforts to specific areas. The two colleges worked together in the province of Texas.

When Franciscan efforts expanded into Texas beginning in 1690, they had access to greater financial support and architectural expertise than had been available in New Mexico the previous century. They could plan for churches on the frontier like those being built for Franciscan establishments in more central areas of New Spain. The Franciscans decided to import master masons to the Texas Frontier and to build imposing churches in the styles of the heartland of New Spain.

Franciscan missionaries were quite capable of conducting many of the construction projects in the missions of Texas. The missionary effort in New Spain had a long tradition of masons who were also mendicants. In the sixteenth century, for example, they built some of the most brilliant architecture in Mexico. During this century of remarkable creativity, however, the rate of failure of the great churches was relatively high. It appears that this resulted in a general rule restricting missionary construction activities; any construction requiring an arch, vault, or dome was usually contracted to a professional mason, or it was not built.

Fray Miguel Sevillano de Paredes stated in 1727 that the missionaries of Valero “had always wanted to build a church all of stone, and with good form and appearance. For this, it was necessary to bring acceptable materials and a master mason.” They had begun to gather the materials to build the church, but could go no further without a master mason. The Franciscans were still applying the same rule in California 70 years later.

The Maestro: Contracts

Since no maestros de albañil, or master masons, lived in Texas during the early years of the new settlements, the Franciscans had to hire them in the south and bring them to the frontier. The most common terms of hire between missionary and mason was the maestranza contract. In this type of contract, the maestro was hired to supply his expertise and supervision in return for a salary. The mission usually supplied a labor force and materials for the project. In practice on the northern frontier, the terms of the contract could vary somewhat. For example, in one of the few surviving examples of such a contract from San Antonio, the Franciscans agreed to supply iron tools for construction work, and the master mason Dionicio Gonzales agreed to cover the cost of cutting the stone, but would receive a payment of 1700 pesos for the work.

Other considerations could be supplied by the missionaries. In 1748, when the master mason Hieronimo Ybarra was contracted to come from San Luis Obispo to San Antonio to take over the numerous construction projects then underway, he apparently paid for his own travel, but the Franciscans covered the transportation costs and living expenses of his wife in 1750.

Construction Contracts

The agreement between Dionicio Gonzales and Fr. Joseph Lopez in 1767 is a good example of the sort of construction contract in use at the time:

Mission S.n Antt.o y Septiembre 27 del ano de 1767
Digo yo Dionicio de Jesus Gonzales que me obligo con mi persona y vienes abidos y por aber, Acabar perfectisimomente la portada de la Yglesia de San Antonio, Como esta en el mapa, poniendo a mi costa la piedra labrada i fin que para esto, sufrece litigo -- ni desturbio, por lo que me remeto a todas la justisias para que me agan cumplir con esta mi obligasion –
Y la mission se obliga en la misma forma a pagar me las cantidades de mil y sien pesos en reales, y la eramienta que nesesitare dandomela calsada, degandome mirasion Libre i para que Conste lo firme con el ministro de dicho mission, en dicho dia, mes, y año.
Dionicio de Jesus Gonzales [rubric]
Fr. Joseph Lopez [rubric]

Mission San Antonio, September 27 of the year 1767
I, Dionicio de Jesus Gonzales, state that I pledge myself, my person and possessions, owned and to be owned, to completely finish the facade of the Church of San Antonio, as it is on the plan, placing to my cost the cut stone; and lastly, that for this I should suffer litigation nor dismissal, for which I place myself [open] to all [just] retribution so that I may be made to complete this my obligation –
And the mission obligates itself in the same manner to pay me the quantity of 1100 pesos in reales, and the iron tools with which I should additionally be supplied, leaving me free supervision, and in order that it be clear, it is confirmed with the minister of the said mission on the said day, month, and year.
Dionicio de Jesus Gonzales [rubric]
Fr, Joseph Lopez [rubric]

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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