I’ve just returned from an afternoon in Spain. Well, actually it was a half-day tour of San Antonio’s five Spanish missions, but the architecture and landscape could have been lifted directly from Spain and planted in South Texas. That is except for the sign on the door at Espada informing visitors that firearms and weapons are prohibited, this sign is, to me, uniquely Texan. So leave your guns at home and prepare for a well-organized and fun trip through Spanish Colonial Texas.
San Francisco de la Espada, San Juan Capistrano, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Nuestra Señora de la Pursima Concepción de Acuña and San Antonio de Valero are more commonly known as the Alamo and lie along an eight and a half mile trail near the river and ends in downtown San Antonio. The trail runs through both urban and semi-rural streets and makes for an easy bicycle trip. Both a friendly park ranger and yours truly would not advise walking the trail during the scorching summer months. There are plenty of opportunities to put miles on your shoes walking about the Alamo’s grounds and the Yanaguana Nature Trail at Mission San Juan.
These missions were all founded in the first half of the 18th Century by Franciscan monks with the support of the Spanish crown to spread both Spanish culture and Christianity throughout what was called New Spain. Even today there continues to be an active Catholic parish and it is possible to attend mass at any of the local churches except the Alamo, which has been under the care of the Daughters of the Texas Republic since 1905.
The National Park Service administers everything that doesn’t fall under the Church’s wing and a great deal of care has been put into the educational materials available to visitors. It was refreshing to see that free guides are also available in Spanish, French and German. I almost cried in the middle of the informational movie, “Gente de Razón” which plays at Mission San Jose. It does an amazing job of explaining not only the destructive effect of Spanish colonization upon the local Coahuiltecan Indians, but also the dramatic impact upon the climate and environment.
Remember to look up as you pass through the church doors because the carvings are interesting. Also, the restored frescos at Mission Concepción are an unexpected surprise.
It is true what they say, “Remember the Alamo!” I did.
Written and photography by Kimberli Waack
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