Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mission Espada Church

Mission San Francisco de la Espada is the southernmost mission of San Antonio's five missions. It was established in 1690, but was abandoned and re-established several times with its permanent home being on the West Bank of the San Antonio River in 1731 with the purpose to serve the Coahuiltecan tribes.

Many Coahuiltecans were willing to become part of the mission system for a number of reasons. The irrigation system supported a more continuous food supply because it allowed for agriculture in a relatively dry climate with little rainfall. Additionally, this group had become devastated by the diseases brought by Europeans, making them vulnerable and dependent on the mission system. The missions also offered much greater protection from rival Native American groups.

During its first six years the mission suffered from Apache raids and an epidemic of small pox and measles, which was followed by the desertion of its entire population of 230 Indians. Yesterday's entry covered the grounds and today's photos show the interior of the mission church.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada means "St. Francis of the Sword'. The church was named for St. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscan order. Mission Espada is an exemplary mission through its surviving buildings.

Like all the missions, by 1794, the mission's Indian population had dwindled, and Mission de la Espada was down to 15 families with a
total population of 45 Indians and along with its other three missions were all secularized and one priest was to oversee both the Mission San Francisco de la Espada and the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

After the secularization of the missions in 1824, the Espada church laid in ruins until 1885 when Father Bouchu, a priest from the near by San Juan mission came to Espada with a desire to rebuild the area.

He turned the convento into his home, purchased nearby tracts of land, rebuilt the chapel, along with choir loft and had the altar statues regilded.

In 1930′s federal funds were used to stablize the ruins as Espada and in 1937 the San Antonio Conservation Society purchased the aqueduct and six acres of surrounding land. Restoration efforts continued in the 1950′s and 60′s. In the 1980′s the National Park Service continued with restorations which were to include a visitors center. As the restorations continued, just like in the previous history of Espada, minor setbacks and problems occured but the work continued and today visitors can come and tour the mission and learn more about its rich and interesting history.

Today, the San Antonio Missions represent the largest collection of Spanish Colonial missions in the United States. These historic sites became the foundation for the city of San Antonio.

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