The Five Missions of San Antonio
In 1972 Unesco initiated the work of identifying and protecting natural and man-made sites around the world that are deemed important to all of humanity. These are sites that have played an important role in the history of human civilization and that Unesco member states are ready to protect and maintain, should it be necessary.
In the United States there are 23 World Heritage Sites, which include Independence Hall, Monticello, and the Statue of Liberty. The most recent addition to that list was added in 2015, and those of us living in Texas are fortunate to be within driving distance of it.
Mission San Antonio de Valero, more commonly known as The Alamo, is a powerful symbol of the fight for Texas independence. Every Texan recognizes the name. What many don’t realize is that The Alamo was the northernmost mission in a chain of 5 missions established along the banks of the San Antonio River. The Alamo was established in 1718 and the rest were all completed within a few years. The last one, Mission San Francisco de Espada, is the southernmost mission and was established in 1731.
The arrival of the Spanish Franciscan friars was intended to solidify Spain’s influence in what is today Texas. Originally, the friars had established their missions in East Texas, in an effort to keep out the French, who were beginning to encroach on the area. The missions were unsuccessful and it was decided that they should be moved further west, namely to the San Antonio River area. By this time, Spain had been in control of Central and much of South America for almost 200 years and was intent on converting all native populations to catholicism and making them Spanish subjects. The native american population already in the area was feeling threatened by other tribes moving down from the north and chose to start new lives within the defended walls of the missions.
The missions that we see today were actually built by the native population, after being taught the skills of the various trades required for their construction by the Spanish. With the exception of the Alamo, the churches themselves are still in use. Some of the descendants of the builders are said to be active members of the church community. What an amazing heritage that must be. I wonder how many stories of mission life have been passed down through the generations.