Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Oldest Unrestored Stone Church

Located along a stretch of about five miles are the five missions of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Our visit to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and Juan de Acuña* is the fourth of these missions that we toured.

Originally founded in 1716 in what is now eastern Texas, the mission was one of six authorized by the government to serve as a buffer against the threat of French incursion into Spanish territory from Louisiana. After a tenuous existence and several moves, the mission was transferred to its present site in 1731.

The missions were Indian towns, with the church as the focus, where, in the 1700s, the native people were learning to become Spanish citizens. In order to become a citizen, they had to be Catholic.

This stone church took about 20 years to build and was dedicated in 1755. It stands proudly as the oldest unrestored stone church in America.

Mission builders, skilled master craftsmen recruited from Mexico, preserved the basic Spanish model, with modifications dictated by frontier conditions. The church is an excellent example of Spanish Colonial architecture with a variety of features: intricate Renaissance and Moorish details complement Romanesque forms and gothic arches.

Twin bell towers may have been topped by crosses similar to those in place today.

Colorful Moorish designs mix with images showing both Native American and Spanish Catholic influences.

The gray exterior walls of the church and convento had originally been covered with colorful murals. The colors of the designs on the interior walls of the church give some indication of what the interior looked like over 200 years ago.

The integrity of the church and convento roofs at Mission Concepción prevented the deterioration of many fine examples of frescos. Fresco is one of the most permanent ways of decorating. Pigment is applied to wet lime plaster, which absorbs the color. The paints used on the mission churches contained limestone and goat's milk as binders.
As it dries, the plaster hardens back into limestone, and the colors soften into permanency. This tediously applied art form covered the front of the church and most of the church and convento interiors. Today only four rooms clearly show remnants of these colorful designs painted over 250 years ago.

*Juan de Acuña, the Marqués de Casafuerte, was Viceroy of New Spain (Mexico) when the mission transferred to the San Antonio River area in 1731.

The information above was found at nps.gov/saan/planyourvisit/concepcion

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