The Spanish Missions of Texas

The San Antonio missions represent some of the most stunningly beautiful architecture remaining from the Spanish colonization efforts north of Mexico in the 1700s. And, of course, at the time that was the whole point.

The Spanish, after years seeking legendary fortunes of gold, silver and youth, had come to realize the main wealth of the area north of Mexico was the land and its inhabitants. Not necessarily for farming or raising cattle, though that was ultimately of great benefit, but mostly as a way to stop the French from expanding westward.

In order to establish colonies, the Spanish had to have people, and that’s where the wealth of the land really paid off. Local Indian tribes known as the Coahuiltecan (kwa-weel-teken) offered the Spanish numbers, if only they were able to convert these “barbarians” to Catholicism.

Of course the Spaniards had quite a deal for the Indians: Come live inside the walls of the mission, we’ll protect you from other tribes, offer you warm sleeping quarters and in exchange you need only give up your heritage and culture and convert to Catholicism.

The plains of Texas could be rough for the hunting and gathering tribes, so many readily converted in order to secure an easier lifestyle. Of course, this lifestyle wasn’t necessarily easier since the Indians were used primarily as indentured servants to the Spanish Crown, were forced to fight and die to defend the missions and often succumbed to any of a number of European diseases.

Today, the San Jose Mission, though managed by the Federal Parks remains an active Catholic church complete with regular mass – a strange relationship for sure.

When considered separately from the original mission, and factors surrounding the spiritual conquest of the Texas Indian tribes, the buildings are architectural striking and inspirational and represent some of the oldest remaining buildings in the country. See pictures below.