Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio, Texas

Coordinates: 29.390124,-98.492408
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña
View atop Concepcion.

NPS photo.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, commonly called Mission Concepción, is a National Historic Landmark and is part of a story of global and regional conflicts. Mission Concepción was one of the missions authorized by the Spanish government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French invasion from Louisiana into Spanish territory. Mission Concepción faced a number of pressures from the beginning that eventually led to its relocation. Even at its new site along the San Antonio River, Indians and missionaries faced problems including disease, raids, and the challenges of diverse groups of Indians living and working together. Today visitors can see the remnants of this time period at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park unit that preserves the domed church with its elegant stonework and painted decorations.

Building and feeding a diverse community

The mission was originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the homeland of the farming Hainai Indians. The project was abandoned after the mission suffered greatly from lack of supplies, an epidemic, and the war between the French and Spanish that began 1719. The Spanish missionaries and soldiers retreated to San Antonio and attempted to return in 1721. Secular Spanish authorities withdrew their support of the enterprise and closed the presidio in what is now eastern Texas. The closure deprived the Franciscans of protection forcing them to move the mission closer to the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar along the San Antonio River. As a result of the move, the composition of the mission changed significantly and came to consist of hunter-gatherer Coahuiltecan groups.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña
Mission Concepcion altar.

NPS photo.

As at the other San Antonio missions, the Indian community at Mission Concepción was very diverse and spoke many different languages. Communication was a major difficulty for missionaries who themselves came from various parts of a large Spanish empire. Between 1718 and 1793, at least 150 separate Indian groups speaking numerous languages and dialects had one or more individuals at the five San Antonio missions. People from Pajalat, Tacame, Siquipil, Tilpacopal, Patumaca, Patalca, and from Coahuiltecan groups who lived south of San Antonio on the Frio and Nueces rivers appear in the baptismal and marriage records.

The Pajalats were the most prominent group at Mission Concepción, and a Pajalat chief was first elected as the Concepción pueblo leader. In 1737, Father Gabriel de Vergara, the president of the Texas Querétaro missions who lived at Mission Concepción, tried to standardize communication to help administer the diverse peoples. He attempted to institute Pajalat as the major spoken language, publishing a Pajalat –Spanish glossary and manual for missionaries. Communication was a key to keeping the many economic activities at the mission functioning.

Disease and violence deeply impacted the Indians at Mission Concepción. The Epidemic of 1739 greatly affected the missions in the San Antonio area, cutting the population of 250 in half. Apache raiding and later, Comanche raids became problematic for the mission. The Coahuiltecan Indian groups were resilient and the number resurged to 200 by 1745, largely from new converts who came to the mission to find protection from raiding and a steady food supply. Their labor built the fortified walls that protected the community.
Restored paint and plaster over an interior door.
Restored paint and plaster over an interior door.

NPS photo.

Mission Concepción began as a community of temporary wooden and thatch-roofed structures, which more permanent adobe and stone structures replaced over time. The mission had limestone quarries where Indian laborers cut stone for the church, the four long rows of Indian quarters, a barrel vaulted-roofed sacristy, and the fortified quadrangle enclosure. The plaza and quadrangle of Mission Concepción became a bustling center of activity that made the mission largely self-sustaining. An 18th-century inventory describes the mission as possessing a communally owned river dam, a chicken coop, an infirmary, an archive, a blacksmith shop, a cemetery, a baptistery, a granary, cells for the friars, and growing a large food supply watered by the acequia. The acequia was the lifeblood of the mission and its waters irrigated fields, called labores.

Over time, the native population decreased at the mission as people succumbed to disease, left, or became more embedded in Hispanic culture. Concepción's secularization began in 1794, and resulted in the distribution of its lands to the 38 remaining Indians. Later, the church became a revolutionary headquarters in 1813 during the Mexican Revolution, the site of the Battle of Concepción in 1835 during the Texas Revolution, and an American supply depot during the Mexican-American War. The compound was left in disrepair for many years, but the Catholic diocese began reusing and restoring the buildings after 1855. Federal relief workers initiated the first large-scale restoration and archeological efforts in the 1930s. The National Park Service and the Archdiocese of San Antonio care for Mission Concepción today, and it is part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña
Twin towers and adjacent stone convento of Mission Concepcion.

NPS photo.

What will you see at Mission Concepción today

The two most visible remnants of the mission are the church and the convento. Dedicated in 1755, the mission church took 20 years to build and remains today as an iconic example of the Mexican Baroque style used in Texas during the Spanish Period. Mission Concepción is the oldest, best-preserved stone church in the United States. Its overall design is in the shape of a crucifix, and the vaulted roof has a dome. Two identical bell towers mark the entrance. Recent research suggests that the placement of windows was a deliberate attempt to illuminate the two side altars on specific feast days. The walls of limestone are four feet thick, and inside are some of the frescos indigenous artisans painted on the plaster walls. The church retains the highest level of original colonial-era materials of any of the mission churches and is in very good condition overall.

Visitors can also see Concepción's convento, which influenced the design of many conventos built at the California missions. Work continues at Mission Concepción, including the preservation and stabilization of roofs, masonry walls, and painted plaster by using traditional materials and techniques. Mission Concepción is the closest mission to Mission Valero/The Alamo and to downtown San Antonio, and is the second most visited mission complex in the National Historical Park after Mission San José. Today, a trail passes the mission's convento, church, and associated buildings. Located throughout the Mission Concepción complex are exhibits depicting aspects of art, architecture, and mission life.

Plan Your Visit

Mission Concepción is included in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System composed of four missions located in separate locations in San Antonio, TX. Click for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The main park visitor center is located at Mission San Jose 6701 San José Dr. Mission Concepción is located at 807 Mission Rd. All sites at the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm, except on Thanksgiving Day, December 25, and January 1, and during special services such as weddings and funerals. There are no admission fees. For more information, visit the National Park Service San Antonio Missions National Historical Park website or call 210-932-1001.
Mission Conception has been designated a National Historic Landmark. Click here for the National Historic Landmark file: text and photos. Many components of the National Historical Park have been documented by the National Park Service’s Historic American Buildings Survey, including the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park Site Plan and Mission Concepcion. The San Antonio Missions are also featured in the National Park Service The San Antonio Missions are also featured in the National Park Service South and West Texas Travel Itinerary, the Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Cultures: Explore their Stories in the National Park System Travel Itinerary and the American Latino Heritage Travel Itinerary. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park is also the subject of the online lesson plan, San Antonio Missions: Spanish Influence in Texas. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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