Ysleta Mission (Mission Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta Sur) -- Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Front of church. Ysleta Mission (Mission Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta Sur)

Ysleta Mission (La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur)
Ysleta del Sur Pueblo
El Paso County, Texas

Coordinates: 31.690447,-106.327454
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Spanish Colonial Missions of the Southwest Travel Itinerary

Ysleta Mission (Mission Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta Sur)
Built in 1851, the new building retains symbolic significance to local residents and members of the Tigua Indian Tribe. Saint Anthony, the original patron saint of the mission, and below, a native figure.

Photo by James Reyes. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Mission Corpus Christi de la Ysleta, once a New Mexican mission, is today considered to be the first mission in what is now Texas. The mission was established by Antonio de Otermín, governor of New Mexico, and Fray Francisco de Ayeta in 1682 and was maintained by Franciscans for the purpose of Christianizing the Tigua Indians. The Tigua came as refugees and captives with Otermín on his retreat to the El Paso area after his unsuccessful attempt to recover New Mexico in the winter of 1681–82 following the Pueblo Revolt. La Misión de la Ysleta del Sur, consecrated in 1682, was built by the Tigua (Tewa, Tiwa) speaking peoples originally from Isleta and Sandia Pueblos in what is today New Mexico and administered by Franciscan priests. The mission was located east of present day El Paso, Texas. Dedicated to the Tiguas' patron, St. Anthony of Padua, the pueblo and mission became the nucleus of a community that has existed for 300 years—the oldest continuously occupied settlement in Texas. Today, Ysleta Mission is on the National Register of Historic Places and is located along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro National Historic Trail.

From northern New Mexico to West Texas

The Tigua have faced many challenges in the past three hundred years since arriving in what is now West Texas, and Mission Ysleta became their home and a place of meeting and mixing of cultures. The original mission church at Ysleta del Sur is believed to have been built of mud-chinked logs and willow reeds. Later, Tigua labor built a permanent mission from adobe by 1682. Beginning in the 1670s, and succeeding years, Indians and their friars began to flee the devastating drought, starvation, and Apache attacks. Leaving their villages in the early 1670s, they moved south to establish four new communities in the southeastern portion of El Paso, including San Antonio de Senecú del Sur, San Lorenzo, Nuestra Señora de la Limpia Concepción de Los Piros de Socorro del Sur (featured in this itinerary) and Santa María de las Caldas. Earlier short-lived mission sites in the seventeenth century at El Paso del Norte served the local Mansos and Sumas. In 1682, a large influx of Spaniards and Pueblo Indian allies fleeing the Pueblo Revolt came to these communities around El Paso and helped establish new ones.
Plan of Mission Ysleta, now Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church
Plan of Mission Ysleta, now Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, is an example of the New Mexican style of churches which were built during the 17th and 18th centuries, characterized by their linear, box like forms, with little emphasis on exterior decoration.

1980, Sandra L. Sherrill for the Historic American Buildings Survey. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Through its history, Ysleta has been a meeting and mixing place, partly because of its location near the river and as the gateway to the New Mexican settlements up north. The mission was originally founded on the south side of Rio Grande, but the reason Ysleta is considered part of Texas and not Chihuahua, Mexico, is both a fluke of nature and political borders. Ysleta's current location is a result of a major flood that affected the missions in west Texas and east Chihuahua. Concepción del Socorro, San Antonio de Senecú, and Ysleta were all originally established south of the Rio Grande, but a great flood in 1829 destroyed the three missions. As a result of flooding, the river altered its course to the south and west, leaving Ysleta on the north bank of the main channel. Based on the terms agreed upon in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the main current of the Rio Grande is the international boundary between the U.S. and Mexico, which put Ysleta in Texas. Ysleta's shifting location is a reminder of the flexibility of culture and boundaries in the borderlands of the Southwest.

In the process of construction of a federal building in the 1990s, archeologists uncovered the remains of Ysleta Jacal, the Tigua settlement associated with the nearby Mission Ysleta. A jacal is a wattle and daub structure, and this group of jacales dated between 1680 and 1725. The remains of the settlement represent the first generation of Tigua at the Ysleta mission. Archeological excavations found evidence that in this period, native foods like corn, prickly pear, mesquite, and amaranth continued to be gathered and eaten. Along with domesticated animals, the people at Jacal Ysleta ate relatively high proportions of native animals like deer, rabbit, fish, and birds. As generations past, more Tigua took Mexican names, and some married Mexicans or Mexican Americans, but they maintained their native identities through time. Most continued to live in the same neighborhood, called the Barrio de los Indios. By the 1940s this Pueblo had been incorporated into the town of Ascarate.
Ysleta Mission (Mission Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta Sur)
Interior of church.

NPS photo.

What happened to the Tigua?

In 1958 the city of El Paso annexed Ysleta and imposed property taxes that threatened to drive many Tiguas from their homes. In order to maintain their community, the Tiguas sought official recognition as an Indian tribe but had trouble convincing people of their cultural identity as Indians because of their history at the mission. It took six years to gain both state and federal recognition, but, finally, Congress passed a bill in 1968 that recognized the tribe and activated state assistance, which was necessary to their survival. The tribe's case is unusual because their claim is in an urban setting, and they demonstrate one of many ways of being American Indian in the United States today.
What you can see today

The original adobe church did not survive the centuries, but the community continued to have a church at the site. Parts of the present church were constructed in 1851. Its distinctive silver-domed bell tower was added in 1897. In 1881 the Jesuits took over the church and renamed it Nuestra Señora del Monte Carmelo. Fire severely damaged the mission church in 1907, but it was soon rebuilt and is still in use today by the El Paso Diocese. The Tigua people still identify with the mission and observe several ritual days with dancing, drumming and chanting, such as the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua on June 13th.
Ysleta Mission (Mission Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta Sur)
Front of church.

Photo by davidtravel. Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons.

Parts of the mission walls, as well as the sacristy, church bell. and a cherished Spanish statue of Santo Entierro (Christ Interred) survived the 1907 fire. The reconstructed Ysleta Mission reutilized all these elements and has firmly stood its ground since 1908. An elegant, though smaller, domed belfry pulls the viewer's eye to the facade's right side. Its silvery form soars into the sky above the mission like a fist raised high in tribute to the church's survival and to the Indian community that has maintained its cultural heritage against all odds.

Today at the mission, the community's unique integration of Indian tradition with Christian religion is expressed in a profusion of Indian motifs—rain clouds, corn stalks, baskets, blankets and more—that flow through the church's neoclassical interiors. The display is an unexpected contrast to its Spanish Colonial Revival facade with sparse architectural décor. The cultural, architectural and spiritual juxtapositions reflect the disparate influences that have impacted Ysleta Mission during the more than 300 years since residents first made their way down El Camino Real to face an unknown future in El Paso del Norte (present-day Juárez, Mexico) in New Spain.

Inside the mission, statues of St. Anthony and Kateri Tekakwitha, the Catholic Church's sole American Indian saint, share close quarters. Outside, El Camino Real runs along Socorro Road to the east.

Plan Your Visit

Ysleta Mission (La Misión de Corpus Christi de San Antonio de la Ysleta del Sur) is located south of El Paso at 131 S. Zaragosa Rd. near its junction with U.S. 800, in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, TX. The church is open to the public daily and offers services in both English and Spanish. For more information, visit the Ysleta Mission website, call 915-859-9848, or email info@ysletamission.org.
Every year, on the second weekend of July, the three-day Ysleta Mission Festival celebrates the cultures, music, arts, foods and other highlights of the lower El Paso valley with activities for the entire family. Nearby Ysleta is the Tigua Indian Cultural Center located at 305 Yaya Lane, where the tribe has a museum and has social dances and guided tours.
The Ysleta Mission has been documented by the National Park Service's Historic American Buildings Survey. The mission is also featured in the National Park Service South and West Texas Travel Itinerary and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro Travel Itinerary.

Last updated: April 15, 2016


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