Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. Photo by Larry D. Moore. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga
Goliad State Park and Historic Site
Goliad, Texas

Coordinates: 28.655422,-97.388459
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga
Presidio de la Bahia, a National Historic Landmark, followed Mission Espiritu Santo when it moved to its current location in 1749. The presidio became important during Mexican Independence and the Texas Revolution, and it is located nearby the mission.

Photo by Ernest Mettendorf. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Spanish began colonizing efforts in what is today South Texas after withdrawing to El Paso in the wake of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Colonization of the area was politically and economically advantageous. In addition to saving souls, the missions were a way to create a supply of native labor and deter the French in Louisiana from gaining a foothold in the region. Founded as part of that colonial venture, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, often called Mission Espíritu Santo, was established by Franciscan priests in 1722 and was moved three times. Its final and current location is near Goliad, Texas. Now the mission is a part of Goliad State Park and Historic Site and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The history of the mission is exemplary of the geopolitical tensions in the region and the emergence of ranching culture in Texas.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga map
Plan map, 1938. The shaded areas as the reconstructed areas and the outlined areas as unreconstructed, demonstrating the extent of the mission compound. 

Drawn by T. Phinney and S. Vosper for the National Park Service. Courtesy of Texas State Archives.

Early history of the Gulf Coast

The area of the Gulf Coast, near what is today Houston, Texas, was once the land of the Karankawa-speaking people, about which very little is known today. Karankawa is a linguistic term —these groups shared a similar dialect during the mission period—and may not reflect political organization. Karankawa speaking people were composed of multiple, distinct hunter-gatherer groups. Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca first encountered and lived among Karankawa speakers in 1528 after being shipwrecked on the Gulf Coast. A century and a half passed until the native peoples on the coast encountered other Europeans. The French, led by Robert le Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, established the small Fort Saint Louis settlement on the coast of Matagorda Bay in 1685, abandoning it after the local Karankawas attacked and destroyed it around 1689.

The Spanish built an outpost on top of the ill-fated French settlement in 1718. The fort constructed there in 1722 became Presidio La Bahia, which protected the Mission Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga. In the 18th century the mission system, which the Spanish Crown and private patrons interested in the region's natural resources subsidized, reached Texas. The system established missions that were both agricultural communities and social institutions designed to convert local peoples to Catholicism. Founding a mission required construction of a presidio and villa where soldiers, staff, and native peoples lived. Like the French settlement at Matagorda Bay, the Spanish fort and mission there did not last long, failing to grow crops and attract the local peoples to convert. As a result, the mission was moved in 1726 near what is today Victoria, Texas, where the Tamique and Aranama peoples lived. It lasted for 26 years, developing into a large cattle ranch and farm. The proximity to French Louisiana, French attempts to expand their trade and influence into areas claimed by Spain, and raiding by tribes like the Comanche continued to shape Spanish decisions in the area, and would influence the location of Espiritu Santo.
restoration_plan_1938. Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga
Mission Bahia

In 1749 Mission Espíritu Santo and Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de Bahía were moved to what is now Goliad, Texas, one on each bank of the San Antonio River. The two settlements helped protect El Camino la Bahia, a major trade route to the north and east. The initial settlement buildings were jacals constructed of wattle-and-daub. Later more permanent stone structures were built including a convento and living area for the families at the mission, a granary, and a forge.

The native people living and working at the mission were from many groups, including the Aranama, Piguique, Manos de Perro, Tamique, Tawakoni, and Tonkawa. They chose to try life at the mission because the mission and presidio provided protection from raids. These people became adept horse riders and ranchers. Over time the mission became the one of the first large cattle ranches in the region. By 1788 the mission was growing a variety of crops and had over 15,000 head of cattle. The cattle herd may have reached 40,000 at its peak, with the incorporation of herds from other missions. The mission priests armed the native peoples living at Mission Espíritu Santo to defend against raiding Lipan Apache and Comanche groups. In the 1790s, the raids became more problematic. Raiding, desertion, and disease contributed to the native population decline at the mission in the late 18th century.

The low population resulted in the first order in 1794 to secularize, or place the land Mission Espíritu Santo owned into private ownership. The mission largely ignored the order until the period after Mexican Independence in 1821. The Franciscan friars still resisted and continued to minister to local settlers in spite of encroachments by Anglo settlers, the native people's abandonment of the site, and Apache and Comanche raiding. Far less prosperous by then, the Mission Espíritu Santo was fully secularized by 1830.

In the 1840s after Texas became a state, the mission fell into disrepair. Over the next couple decades the site and its outlying buildings were used for a variety of purposes. Residents of Goliad were permitted to take stones from the structures to reuse in new buildings, dismantling much of the original mission.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Bahía del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga
What you can see today

Following a surge in interest in conservation and restoration of historic sites the newly formed Texas State Park system gained control of the mission site in 1931 and began restoration efforts. From 1935 to 1941 Civilian Conservation Corps crews rebuilt much of the mission, including the chapel and the granary to look approximately as they had in the colonial period. In the 1970s the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department rehabilitated those structures and built exhibits.

Today Goliad State Historic Park includes the reconstructed Spanish Colonial Era Mission of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñiga and the ruins of the 1750's Mission Rosario State Historic Site which can be visited by appointment. The park also has a museum at the Zaragoza Birthplace State Historic Site, which is open on Saturdays. Visitors to the park can take advantage of the camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, swimming, nature study, and exploration of other historic sites. The park offers a floating dock and river access for kayaks and canoes and is a take-out point for the Goliad Paddling Trail.

Plan Your Visit

Mission of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zuñiga is part of Goliad State Park and Historic Site, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The state park is located at 108 Park Rd. 6, Goliad, TX. To get to the park, travel .25 mile south of Goliad on U.S. Highway 183 and 77A. The park is open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm year round except for Christmas Day. There is a small entrance fee. For more information visit the Goliad State Park and Historic Site website or call 361-645-3405.
Nearby, is the Presidio Nuestra Señora de Loreto de Bahía, which is a National Historic Landmark and featured in the National Park Service American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary and the National Park Service South and West Texas Travel Itinerary.

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