Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Post card of Bell tower and carved window at the mission c. 1930-1945. Pub. by Weiner News Co., Tichnor Bros., Inc. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
San Antonio, Texas

Coordinates: 29.361263,-98.478333
Discover Our Shared Heritage
Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo
One of the workshops of the San Jose.

NPS photo.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, known as the "Queen of the Missions," was the largest of the San Antonio missions and was viewed as the model among Spanish missions in Texas. At its height, Mission San José was a sustaining agricultural community and cultural center with Coahuiltecan groups working and living at the site. The mission today is the third site of a community first established in 1720 in east Texas. It was moved to its current location on the west bank of the San Antonio River around 1739. After several years of construction, the church was completed in 1782. Over the next few decades, the population at the mission decreased. Eventually San José was completely secularized in1824. Mission San José now is part of the National Park Service administered San Antonio Missions National Historical Park and is an active Roman Catholic parish that holds regular services in the church. Today, visitors can enjoy the park's visitor center, museum, and free tours of the stone church and mission complex.
From Hunter-Gatherers to Farmers

Mission San José was established in a region lived in by the nomadic Coahuiltecans. The mission changed the lifestyle of the native people in the area by converting them into settled agriculturalists. The creation and ongoing maintenance of the mission brought together the indigenous mission inhabitants and the missionaries, leading to an exceptional interchange of cultures. The native peoples did not accept the change to their lifestyle passively and often deserted the mission.
Mission San Jose brochure
More than church, San Jose mission was an agricultural community.

From the Mission San Jose Visitor’s brochure. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

In an effort to make the mission self-sustaining, the missionaries taught new residents skills in farming, carpentry, and weaving, and construction of stone buildings. Many of these structures were built from the local limestone. After several years of labor, Fr. Pedro Ramírez de Arellano, the Coahuiltecans, and indigenous peoples from Mexico completed the church in 1782. Father José Gaspar Solís thought the community "so pretty and in such flourishing condition, both materially and spiritually, that I cannot find words or figures with which to express its beauty." The mission included a two-story stone convent, 84 stone houses for Indians, the granary, workshops, and even a sugar mill for making cane syrup. The foundations of one workshop where some of these activities took place are still there today.

The San Antonio missions were rich targets for Apache and Comanche raids. Mission San José had only two presidio soldiers stationed there, leaving the people at the mission to defend themselves. Although they could not prevent raids on their livestock, the mission became like a fortress. In the 1760s, in response to the raids, the mission enclosed its buildings with gated perimeter walls 611 feet on each side with corner towers. The missionaries, Coahuiltecans, and other Indian groups living at the mission protected their home with defensive stone walls, lances, spears, bows and arrows, and learned to use guns and cannons to fend off attacks.

Though the mission was gradually secularized as the population of Coahuiltecans decreased, the cultures of the Coahuiltecans and other indigenous groups melded with those of the missionaries and their skilled artisans and resident soldiers. Today, the Spanish language is still widely spoken. Roman Catholic institutions remain prevalent, and indigenous traditions like the mitote, a circle dance and ceremony, are still preserved.
Mission San José y San Miguel de Aquayo restoration
Preservation of the old mission is an ongoing challenge.

NPS photo.

Mission San José Today

After being secularized, the mission fell into disrepair in the 19th century. The church was used for target practice during the Mexican Revolution in 1813, and torn apart by 19th century tourists looking for souvenirs. Much of what is visible at Mission San José is attributable to the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Efforts to restore the mission included rerouting a state highway, large amounts of restoration and reconstruction, and eventually the creation of a national historic park. The protective walls with the Indian Quarters built into them are not original, but were reconstructed in the 1930s above the original foundations.

Today, the Archdiocese of San Antonio and San José parish are responsible for the maintenance and preservation work needed on the church itself and the National Park Service administers the rest of the site. Completed c. 1780, the stone church at Mission San José is 110 feet long and 33 feet wide across the nave. A single bell tower stands on the south side of the façade. A sacristy with three low domes was built along the eastern end of the south nave wall. The façade of the church is decorated with ornate stone carvings and similar intricately carved motifs surround the main window of the sacristy. Brightly painted plaster once covered much of the church and convento, and some of those colorful decorations have been restored in recent years.

About 80% of the church is original, and the carved limestone at Mission San José's church, with its elaborate floral elements and three-dimensional sculptures, displays the skill of the original indigenous craftsmen trained in the Franciscan college in Zacatecas, Mexico. The mission church has recently restored frescos and sculptures that are good examples of the style of the stonework that developed during the late 18th century.

Mission San José is the largest mission complex in the San Antonio Mission National Historical Park and is the focal point for the Park's visitor services and orientation, including the visitor center. The Park's visitor center is located at Mission San José. The visitor center has a museum with bilingual exhibits and shows an award-winning film about the San Antonio missions, "Gente de Razón," every half hour in English or Spanish. A trail leads visitors throughout the mission compound, taking them to restored indigenous residents' quarters, the convento, the church, the granary, and the operational grist mill. Along the trail are exhibits depicting aspects of art, architecture, and mission life.

Plan Your Visit

Mission San José 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. Mission San José and the visitor center are located at 6701 San José Dr. Mission Concepción is located at 807 Mission Rd., Mission San Juan is located at 9101 Graf Rd., and Mission Espada is located at 10040 Espada 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.
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 San José. 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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