Updated Jan. 2019
Texas holds several surprises for visitors, including the San Antonio Missions, established by Spanish missionaries in the early 1700s.
These missions strove to defend against the French invasion of Texas, then part of the Spanish Empire, as well as to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism.
Now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, these missions dot the shore of the San Antonio River and are connected via roads and bike trails.
Mission San Antonio de Valero
Founded in 1718, this is the most famous mission of all. It’s the site of the Battle of the Alamo, a pivotal event in the Texan fight for independence from Mexico in 1836. The center of the compound includes Alamo Plaza, the heart of the Historic District of San Antonio.
After the Franciscan priests left in 1793, the mission became a military barracks. The soldiers brought their families, who settled in the area. Little by little, the town of San Antonio started to grow around the Alamo.
During the Texas war for independence from Mexico, a group of Texan volunteers took over the Alamo, then a Mexican garrison. A Mexican force led by General Lopez de Santa Anna laid siege to the fort. After 13 days, they overpowered the small Texan force. The order was to take no prisoners. The Battle of the Alamo became a symbol of resistance for Texans.
Mission San José
San José is San Antonio’s largest mission and has a defensive wall built to defend the compound from Comanche and Apache attacks. This mission has indigenous quarters, soldiers’ quarters, a convent, workshops, a grist mill, and an imposing stone church. The indigenous quarters are modern replicas, but the convent is mostly original as are the church’s façade and rose window.
The church and the convent (c. 1782) were the heart of the mission. Outside the walls, the Indians tended fields, orchards and livestock. Inside the walls, they worshiped the Christian God, learned to blacksmith, to weave, to make shoes and clothes in the European style.
The beautiful Mission Concepción looks virtually unchanged. Its twin towers stand out among the surrounding greenery, as does its vaulted roof. Frescoes that blend Christian, Spanish, and Native American motifs decorate the spacious church, some having survived to this day.
At Mission Concepción, Franciscan monks taught Indians Spanish culture and religion. It also worked as a form of control of the Texas frontier. Concepción is the ebst preserved of all missions.
San Francisco de la Espada was established in 1731. Here, Coahuiltecan Indians learned farming and bricklaying basics in the European style. Their lives were transformed forever.
Espada’s acequia, or irrigation canal, was in use by 1745. Water flows from the Espada Dam, located 2.1 miles north of the mission. San Francisco de la Espada is the local parish church and the convent houses Franciscan brothers and priests who serve the local community.
Mission San Juan
When it was relocated from East Texas in 1731, San Juan included a church, a perimeter wall, indigenous quarters, a granary, a convent, and workshops. The only components left today are the ruins of the second church, the standing church, and the walls and the foundations of the convent and granary. This mission also includes a secular residence built in the 1820s.
The National Park Service maintains the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, which consists of four missions. Each mission is about 2.5 miles from the next, so it’s easy to drive between them. They are all connected by Mission Road.
The Hike & Bike Trail follows the San Antonio River. Each mission site has a
B-Cycle station, which you can rent for $12 for a 24-hour period.
The VIA bus line 42 and VIVA bus line 40 serve the mission as well.
The San Antonio Missions visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. San José and Concepción are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, whereas San Juan and Espada are open from 10 a.m. to 5 pm daily. All close on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. The Alamo is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily, and it stays open until 7 p.m. from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Use the National Park Service’s handy San Antonio Missions Trip Planner to make sure you don’t miss a thing.