Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Queen of the San Antonio Missions

The Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo is the largest of the five missions in San Antonio and is known as the "Queen of the Missions."

Completed in 1782, it was named for Saint Joseph and the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, the governor of the Province of Coahuila and Texas at the time.

The mission was almost fully restored to its original design in the 1930s by the WPA (Works Projects Administration), so we could have a pretty good idea how the missions might have looked over 250 years ago. It was surprising to learn that the exterior of the church was very colorful. These portions of the exterior give some idea how magnificent the exterior must have been.

Spanish missions were not churches, but communities, with the church the focus. Around the perimeter of the rectangular-shaped mission were the living quarters with the plaza and workshops in the interior

At its height, the San José community contained about 350 Indian neophytes (those being given training in Christianity and Spanish civil government), sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock.

"Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center.

"So rich an enterprise was a natural target for Apache and Comanche depredations. Although they could not prevent raids on their livestock, the mission itself was almost impregnable (in the photo below, note the hole in the wall on the left and the two holes in the wall next to the entrance).

"In his journal, Fray Juan Agustín Morfí attested to its defensive character: 'It is, in truth, the first mission in America . . . in point of beauty, plan, and strength . . . there is not a presidio along the entire frontier line that can compare with it.' The danger was when working the fields or during travel to and from the ranch or other missions. With technical help from the two presidial soldiers garrisoned there, San José residents learned to defend themselves. Already proficient with bow and arrow, the men also learned the use of guns and cannon" (gov/saan/planyourvisit/sanjose).

Among the San Antonio missions, this mission provided the strongest garrison against raids from Indians.

The large convento housed at least two missionaries, and any travelers or guests. Living space was on the second floor, while the first was made up of storeroom, and a kitchen and refectory

During the preservation work completed in the 1930s, the convento walls required stabilization and some reconstruction work. As we walked through the convento space, we focused on the arches, windows, and architectural lines of the remaining structures.

But next we wanted to concentrate on the church of the mission.

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