San Antonio Missions
Mission San Jose
While the Alamo is the most widely known and visited, travelers shouldn’t make it their sole stop inside San Antonio Missions National Park. The San José, established in 1720, was a model for other missions--and the most prosperous.
Located just south of the Alamo, this “Queen of the Missions” represented a social and cultural center. Its 300 residents sustained themselves by raising livestock and tending to vast fields. The mission had its own gristmill and granary, which have been restored.
At the church, look for flying buttresses, carvings, quatrefoil patterns, polychromatic plaster and the famed “Rose Window,” a superb example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation. Explore the stairway that leads to the belfry and choir loft; all 25 risers were hand-hewn form a single log and assembled without the use of nails or pegs.
Arguably the most beautiful mission church, Concepción looks much like it did in 1731 when it hosted many religious ceremonies. The structure is, in fact, the oldest un-restored church in America. While its exterior paintings have faded, guests can view conserved interior remnants of wall and ceiling paintings.
Mission San Juan
The San Juan’s fertile farmlands allowed for a self-sustainable mission, and its surplus helped supply the region with produce. The chapel and bell tower are still in use. Note the typical Romanesque archway at the entrance gate and the remains of a half-completed, more elaborate church. Guests can also tour a self-guided nature trail that leads to the river
This mission contains the best-preserved segment of the acequia (irrigation system) that was used to bring water to the fields. Today, part of the acequia operates the Espada aqueduct and dam. Also noteworthy are an unusual door and stone archway. All five missions are accessible via the six-mile Hike and Bike trail. When visiting, keep in mind that the San Jose is an active parish, and mass may be in session