Friday, March 15, 2013

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Our tour of the San Antonio (TX) missions took us to the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Quoting from "Mission San Juan Capistrano was first named Mission San Jose de los Nazonis to serve the Nazoni and Nadaco Indians in East Texas. It was founded in 1716 and abandoned three years later due to the problems with its neighboring French influences. The mission was re-established once in 1721 and moved in 1730 and again moved in 1731 to its permanent location. It was located only a few miles from the Mission San Juan and to avoid confusion it was renamed San Juan Capistrano after a recently canonized Italian Saint John of Capistrano.

"In 1736, the mission was protected by three soldiers and the new provincial governor withdrew two of them which caused problems with the Indians at the mission who felt the protection of these soldiers from invading Apaches. As a result the Indian population deserted the mission and it took months to replenish the Indian population at the mission. When the epidemic of 1739 struck the mission, the native population again was devastated, and it took six years to again rebuild the population. As with the other missions, the native population was of great importance to the mission as it was its source of labor to keep the mission alive.

"The mission in 1739 consisted of a straw-roofed chapel, a tower with two bells, and a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. The chapel also had a confessional, a copper baptismal font, and four sets of colored vestments.

"The Indian homes (the foundations of which are shown in the foreground below) were placed around the mission plaza along with a stone friary, a stone granary and workshops (the foundations of which are in the foreground of the photo below; in the background on the left is the former convent).

"The farm produced 1280 bushels of corn and the ranch had 865 head of cattle, 304 sheep, 270 goats and 36 horses.

(The former rectory [below] was reconstructed in 1967-68.)

"As the mission grew, so did the side of the chapel, this time with a wood roof and stone recessed arches. The mission plaza also now had a textile shop with three looms and a long stone granary. By 1762, plans were in the works for the Indians' thatched roofed homes to be replaced with stone houses. There were 203 Indians consisting of 51 families living at the mission. The mission again had three soldiers protecting the residents.

"By 1772, mission San Juan Capistrano population, along with the other missions was in decline. Many of the Indians had been absorbed into the neighboring population and replacements were becoming more difficult to find. By 1780 the population was reduced to 58 with too few to keep the mission going.

"In 1794, San Juan was made a subsidiary of Mission San Francisco de la Espada across the river and by 1815 the mission only served 15 Indians and 50 Spaniards who lived nearby.

"In 1858, Father Bouchu was appointed to serve at the mission, and he rebuilt a home and repaired the chapel. His time was divided between the mission at San Juan and the mission at Espada, and he eventually moved to Espada in 1885. The following year a hurricane tore off the roof of the chapel at San Juan and the mission once again deteriorated to neglect.

"It was not until 1902 that the mission was once again brought up for restoration, this time through private sources and with the help of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas organization; but once again forces were not in their favor, and due to competing needs and funding, the restoration was delayed. After the death of Father Bouchu in 1907, the repairs for the mission were included with the plans for repairs of the mission Espada and work was finally started. In 1909, services were once again held in the chapel.

"Twenty years later additional repairs were made including re-roofing the chapel and building quarters for priests on the grounds.

(During the 1960s the chapel, priests' quarters, and other structures were rebuilt.)

"In 1992, the mission was under the ownership of the National Park Service; the San Juan Aqueduct was repaired and water once again flowed to a demonstration farm where visitors could see living history demonstrations of the farms worked by the Indians of the Mission."

Within the past couple of weeks a restoration of the church was completed. The photos above show the interior of the church.

Elaine Ayala reported that "The skeletal remains of about 15 people, presumably American Indians from the Spanish colonial period, were uncovered at Mission San Juan during renovation work at the South Side landmark this year." According to Steve Tomka, director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio, "the remains are believed to be from 'the 1780s to 1815 period'” ( The remains were buried in a location on the grounds in a re-internment ceremony led by religious and tribal leaders.

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