William Corner.

San Antonio de Bexar; a guide and history online

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A protest must be recorded here against the wanton mutilation of the sculp-
ture of the Missions by thoughtless relic hunters. The shameful chipping of the
beautiful carving has been going on for years. At San Jose whole figures have been
stolen and others made headless ; the fine old carved cedar paneled doors of this
Mission were entirely wrecked and carried away piecemeal. Can any good use
warrant such senseless robber}- ? Good friend, forbear ! forbear even to add your
name to the thousands scratched, scribbled and penciled on walls not meant for
such a purpose.

How to Get to the Missions.

How can I get to see the Missions ? is the anxious in(iuiry of almost every
traveling sightseer that comes to San xAntonio.

The idea that if one is seen all are seen is erroneous.

Each M'ssion has its distinctive fea'iures, and all are well worth a visit.
Time, of course, is of great consideration to most people, and they would rather
see one than none, which is reasonable enough, but if the time can possibly be
spared none of the four Missions should be missed. There is nothing of the kind
of equal interest on this continent. It is an experience of a lifetime, especially
so to him who is engaged in the rush and torrent of business life. Let him then
sacrifice a little to this ol)ject and he may be sure that, far from regretting the
time, it will be a memory to be long cherished. It is a simple matter to get to
the Missions, except after a heavy rain, and then the muddy roads, as every where
else m the world, are a little uni)leasant. The v.-ay for a .stranger to go, to
thoroughly enjoy the time, is to hire a buggy, or. if a small party is made up, a
larger conveyance. Northern visitors are often .seen making them.selves ver>- un-
comfortable by going out to the Missions on horseback thinking that it is the
thing to do in Texas. If you are a good rider, all right, but don't make yourself
miserable by putting yourself for the first time in a Texas saddle to see the
Mi.ssions, or you are very sure not to appreciate what there is to see. The
ride should be made a separate numl)er on the program. Granted, — that
you have made up your mind to hire a buggy and to see all the Mi.ssions.
Start in the morning after breakfast taking a liglit lunch with you. You take
Garden street going south, and noting as you leave town the wide old Concepcion
Ditch on the left hand side of the road. You still follow the same street crossing
the Southern Pacific Railroad track and bearing slightly to the right ; cross the
S. A. & A. P. Railroad track, still following the same road, until you see the
Towers of the Mission Concepcion standing conspicuously up on the left hand
side of tile road, just two and one quarter miles from the centre of the city.
Having seen all that there is to be seen here. > on make your way along the
same road towartls the Riverside Park, then down to the River, crossing a new
countv bridge there at the old ford.


It was just in this neighborhood that the first battle was fought for Texan
Independence, in ls;55. After crossing the River, you take what is called the
River Road, but you do not catch sight of the River again until you reach
the Mission of San Jose, not four miles from the city. It should be noon by the
time that you have done the.se two Missions thoroughly, so if you choose you
can drive down a short distance to the River and water your horse, tie, and at a
very pretty spot under the Pecans, take your lunch. You must return to San
Jose to take the road to the Third Mission, passing the Pyron homestead on the
left, keeping on between fences until you reach a branch of the road, one towards
Berg's Mill, where there are both a bridge and a ford. The Third Mi.ssion is on
the other side of the River. It will be noted that the Missions are alternately on
different sides of the River. The First on the east bank, the Second on the west,
the third on the Bast and the fourth on the West. Leaving the third you return
over the bridge a short distance to the branch of the road that you left, and
go down abrupt!}' to the wooden bridge over the Piedra creek. Quite close to
this bridge to the left is the old aqueduct made by the Franciscan brothers nearly
150 years ago. Alight and examine it. It is indeed a substantial and interest-
ing work, a series of low massive arches on the top of which runs the Mission
irrigating ditch. Leaving this, follow this branch road to the fourth Mission and
return to the City at pleasure.

Mission Concepcion.

" To ruinate proud buildings with thy hours
And smear with dust their glittering, golden towers."

In the report of the Viceroy Count Revilla-gigedo, referred to many times in
this work, the date of the "ereccion" of this Mission as well as those of the Mi.ssions
of the Alamo, San Juan and San Francisco de la Espada, is given as
171(). San Jose is given as being "erected" four years later 17"2(). This
does not mean that the buildings were then erected, but simply that in
that year it was determined to establish Missions in suitable localities on
Spain's frontiers for the purposes of subjecting, christianizing and civilizing In-
dian tribes and of firmly establishing Spain's right to these regions of territory
to which she laid a just claim. It was in the year 1730 that the Mission of Nues-
tra Sefiora de la Concepcion Purissima de Acuiia was located as the report says
on the site that it now occupies in the neighborhood of the Capital Town of the
Province. The Church records show that the foundation stone of this Mission
was laid March o, 1731, about the time that the Mission San Jose was completed,
and that taking twenty-one years to build it was completed in 1752. The won-

* Translation from the " Infornie Oficial " of Connt-Revilla-gigedo, Viceroy of Mexico 17!t;>.

Aktici.e lltli. " On the third expedition of the year 1"1(>, nine friars of the College of Santa Cruz of Que-
retaro and of Our Lady of Guadalupe of Zacatecas together with the Superior or President, V. P. Fr. Antonio
Margil de Jesus established six missions in the most northerly part of the Province (Texas) and a few years
thereafter another was built near the Presidio of Our I.ady del Pilar dc los Adaes distant seven leagues from
the fort of Nachitoches in I of
teaching an intraclal)lc i)eo])lc, strange to intluslrv, at once, how to labor and the
arts. The reader is referred to the ground phuis of the Missions illu.strated in
this i)Ook and he will realize how enormous in the wilderness and with such
difficulties was the undertaking.

Mission Concepcion was built like the others for worship, for scholastic pur-
poses and for defence. The barracks that surrounded the square have long since
disappeared and what was for a period the home of ho.spitality and the strong-
hold and refuge of many wayfarers and travellers and alive witli the daily toil
ot its little community and the quick purpo.se of its founders, is now (|uiet and
deserted, a relic, and but for the occasional service in the chapel is an institution
that has served its day. It is pathetic, realizing that there is no help for the.se
grand old monuments of the past but to fall more and more into decay. Mission
Concepcion is the best preserved Mission of Texas. Its ''twin towers" and
Moorish dome rising out of the brush and small timber in its vicinity arou.se
wnthin one a mixture of curiosity, a sense of the incongruous and a delight of
the picturesque. At the Mission lives a family, which is in charge and some one
of them will bring you the key of the chapel and show you what there is to be
seen, but it would be useless to try and elicit any information. To them the past
of the Mission is as a sealed book and it has no romance for them. The Mission
Church fronts due West, and is built in the form of a cross, with the towers
forming two wings at the foot of the cross. This design corresponds exactly
with that of the Church of the Alamo. The front gateway is worthy of close ex-
amination. The upper part of the ornamented faoade is not an arch but a
simple triangle and the arch of the doorway is, for want of a better definition, a
divided polygon. In the division or center of the arch is a sliield with arms
and devices, and here and there on the portal faoade are cross and scroll, and
carved relief pillars at the sides ornamented with carved lozenges. In angular
.spaces over the archway as .shown l)elow is the legend:






> ^

< g

V v-/-


which, being interi)reted, is " With these arms be mindful to the Mission's Patron-
ess and Princess, and defend (or vindicate) the state of lier inn-ity." Over this


winds, circling in and out, the flagelluni or knotted scourge of the order of St.
Francis, realistically carved — "Ifitwan't for the knots, 'twould be like a hair
lariat," as a boy once remarked. It also has an uncanny suggestion of a hang-
man's noose. These are again surmounted with other designs, and above all on the
summit of the faoade is a stone bearing the date 1794, and immediately under-
neath this is a shield with the initial, ^^,^ meaning, "Ave Maria." The only
stained glass in all the Missions is the panes of two little windows each side of
the upper part of the faoade. The front of the Mission Concepcion must have
been very gorgeous with color, for it was frescoed all over with red and blue
quatrefoil crosses^ of different pattern and with large yellow and orange squares
to simulate great dressed stones. This frescoing is rapidly disappearing, and
from but a little distance the front looks to be merely gray and undecorated stone.
The topmost roofs of the towers are pyramidical and of stone, with smaller corner
pyramidal cap-stones. The upper stories of the towers have each four lookout
windows of plain Roman arches. The tops of the side walls of the Church and
the circle wall of the central dome have wide stone serrations in the Moorish
character, the points of which around the finely proportioned dome stand out like
canine teeth. The towers have belfries, and at their bases, on either side of the
entrance are on the right, a baptistry 11x11 feet with massive thick walls, and on
the left a similar small chamber used as a vestry. The baptistry walls are fres-
coed with weird looking designs, dim and faded, of the Crucifixion and " los
dolores." It is quite dark in thi.s room, there being no window, and a light
must be procured to examine it. A semi-circular font projects from the south
wall, its half bowl carved with what appears to be a symbolical figure with out-
stretched arms supporting the rim. It is a rude piece of carving, but is artistic.
Inside, the stone roof of the Chapel with its series of arches and central dome, is
massive but plain. In each wing of the cross are altars or altar places. In the
west end is a choir loft. In the east, an altar gorgeously decked and painted in
the Catholic manner, for Mass. The walls, roof, and ceiling are newly white-
washed, the floor is "' Mother Earth," but some bran new seats have been pro-
vided. The Chapel up till recently, was in a very neglected state. To Bishop
Neraz belongs the credit of having it restored to its present state of cleanliness
and comfort. He it was who re-dedicated it to Our Eady of Lourdes on May '2.

The mission was frequently used for the quartering of troops, nolal>l_\- in
1835. Santa Anna is said to have expressed surprise that the Alamo was chosen
to be defended by the Texans in \H',](\ rather than the Mission Concepcion, affecting
to recognize, more effective military points in the Concepcion Mission as a strong-
hold. In 1S11) the United States troops were quartered there for awhile and it is
said that they cleared the chapel of an immense amount of accunuilated rubbish
and bat guano. In the holes in the walls outside are to l)e found the nesting
places of owls, pigeons, doves and other birds. To the south of the chapel,
westerly, are a series of arches which were formerly cells, chambers and cloisters
for the Mission inmates, but now u.sed as storage rooms and stables. To tlie

* Tlusf (|uaticfoils arc repealed over and over a^ain in llie carved lozenges of Uic pillars in relief, and
frescoes of this Mission and at San Jose. Whellier there is an> meaning attached to these i>;\rlienlar ("ornis of
the cross lieyond that they are crosses, the editor is ni\at)leto discover.

'■■' i

■ 1

J .^. 1 i

J i

1 — n

QoQGepeioi) (Aissiop.

The shaded part is in ruins. The material is rough stone laid
in mortar. B is the baptismal chamber. T is the room under the left
tower. D stands for door, as /? for arch. There is another room above
the Sacristy.

The river is towards the west about % mile.

Scale, 40 feet to the inch.

In a work published in the Spanish language at Saltillo written by ivsteban L.
Portillo and entitled "Apuntes para la Historia Antigua de Coahuila y Texas, the
author on page 3a5 remarks concerning the Mission Coucepcion, apparently
deriving his information from Mexican State Records :— " In order to guard it, the
Monastery had a stone wall with three gateways, as well »«, two bronze cannons of
an eight-ounce calibre, with a weight of 3 arrobas 8 Ubras,'' (83 lbs each). As has
been said in our description of this Mission the traces of such walls are to-day
hardly to be defined and these defences are not shown in the plan for fear of inac-

. Wnf attire J^hm

Srei/i' jfJO fir/ -J iiir/t

7^ \_^ B.

trli/lltuivd. I" I



Sai) Jose fnissioQ.

The shaded part is in ruins. D represents door, W
window. The dotted lines represent arches or abutments T ":,^ "'^
for arches. The front walls are 5 feet thick, others 3%
and 2% feet.

Stale, jofeet to the inch.

The river U to the north about Ji mile, running south of east.

wr ~i^




[jyfdoie wall

^ L






Sai) Jose Qrai^ary.

F F F etc. are flying- buttresses. The dwelling is two
stories high. The adobe wall is modern. The material is
rough stone laid in mortar.

The river is towards the north, running south of east.
Scale, 20 feet to the inch.



! Chirrdr


Sap Juai) /T\issioi7.

Solid lines show existing works, dotted lines, old and ruined
ones. The river is to the west about loo yards, flowing in a southerly
direction. D is for door, W is for window. The Granary and Church
are partly in ruins.

Scale, 80 feet to the inch.

Espada /T)i55iOQ.

Solid li7ies show existing works, dotted lines, ruined
works. T T T are bastions or buhuarks. A A /i A A are
arched doorways.

Scale, loofeet to the inch.


Illustrating the [/ilia Capital de San Fernando, Sparjisf]
Garrison, Etc.

1. The old Church of San Fernando.

2. Churchyard Burying Ground, now covered by the Cathedral
of 1868-72.

3. The Presidio Garrison Barracks, long since removed.

4. The old Plaza de Armas Dwellings and Ramparts. All 3 and 4
were claimed by the city as city property and in most cases the city
substantiated its claims, and, acquiring it, cleared the old buildings
away. The lot marked d was the last private property to disappear-
1889. In the '40s and '50s a man named Goodman gave much trouble
before he was finally ousted by law by the city. Plats of most of
these properties, and the names of claimants, may be found in
Book 1, City Engineer's Records. The City Hall of 1850-90, with
City Jail, occupied N. W. corner, c d.

5. Properties of N. Lewis, Callaghan, Groesbeeck, et al., on Main
Plaza, claimed and cleared by the city similarly to those on Military
Plaza (See note 4).

6. The isolated Spanish family names on the plan are those of
some of the original property holders.

7. The faintly dotted lines to and from the Veramendi and Garza
Houses are the approximate routes to Zambrano Row and to the
Priest House taken by the besieging companies under Milam and
F. W. Johnston in 1835. The capitulation of Cos to Burleson fol-
lowed in 1835.

This plan is about 75 varas to the inch, Rampart Dwellings from 6 to 12 varas
wide, Garrison Barracks, 20 varas wide.


south forming a wing- easterly are oilier buildings probably the sacristy,
superior's vestries and ([uarters, these have two stories, the upper being ap-
proached by a stone stair-case. The square of the Mission at this date, can
very hardly be defined, but that the Mission was situated in the southeastern
corner of a ramparted square is without doubt. The Mission Stjuare enclosed
about four acres. The brothers of the Mission formerly owning about 100 acres.
On April 10th, 17U4, the lands of Mission Concepcion were partitioned in a simi-
lar manner to those of the Alamo Mission, among its Indian dependents, setting
aside certain portions of the land for the payment of Government taxes. This
was done by an order of the Viceroy dated 17
girls and -'J widows. In ISO") a census showed 41 souls.

The name of the Mission refers first to the doctrine of the Immaculate Con-
ception of the Virgin which was a new and l)urning religious question of the
day. Acuna it derives from the name of the Manjuess Casa de Fuerte, Viceroy
of Mexico at the time of the Mission's foundation.

The Mission San Jose.

Mission San Jose de Aguayo or Second Mission as it is familiarly called, is
dedicated to vSt. Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary, and was "erected" or
founded in the year 1720, when Marquis San Miguel de Aguayo came to be Gov-
ernor of Texas ; hence the name San Jose de Aguayo. It was probably begun
shortly after, during this man's Governorship, for it was the first to be finished
and the day of its completion was made the occasion of locating and beginning
the Concepcion, San Juan and San Francisco Missions, March 5. 1731. San Jose
Mission is the most beautiful of all, and its carving is surely "a joy forever."
The hand that chiseled the wonderful faoade at the main entrance of the Church,
the doorway, window, and pillar capitals of the smaller Chapel, that now goes by
the name of the Baptistry, was one of marvelous cunning. The faeade is rich to
repletion with the most exquisite car\iiig. Figures of Virgins and Saints with
drapery that looks like drapery, cherubs" heads, sacred hearts, ornate pedestals
and recesses with their conch-like canoi)ies, and cornices wonderful. The door
way, pillar and arch, is daring in its unique ornamentation — showing in its com-
bination of form the impression of Moorish outlines. Otherwise the whole faeade
is rich Rennaissance — figures and hearts alone with aiiylhing realistic about
them. All other ornamentation is conventional but with nothing stiff", every
curve showing a free hand. The window above the areluva\- is a simple wreath
of such acanthus-like curves and conchoids of surpa.ssing workmanship.
The south window of the Baptistry is considered by good judges the finest gem of
architectural ornamentation existing in i^.merica to-day. Its curves and propor-
tions are a perpetual delight to the eye, and often as the writer has seen and ex-
amined it, it is of that kind of art which does not satiate, but ever reveals some
fresh beauty in line or curve. And to think that men can be found who can
ruthlessly deface these for the sake of possessing a piece of the material. Was it
not that the sculptor saw the perfect statue in the stone ? Surely here the fool


sees only the stone in the material that has been given a beauty not its own. If
stones ever do cry out, it is when they are alive with this touch of genius.

" Do you not know me; does no voice within
Answer my cry, and say we are akin ?"

But can these desecrators have any kinship with Art ? It is not the Texan
or the Mexican who has done these things. Kendall says, writing of '42,
" though the Texan troops were long quartered here, (San Jose) the stone carv-
ings have not been injured." And this was in wartime when men are more than
usually bent on destruction.

Turn to the foundation plan of San Jose. It will be .seen how extensive
these Mission buildings are. They are placed in the northeast corner of the
square, running almost due east and west. " The Mission San Jo.se consists also
of a large square, and numerous Mexican families still make it their residence.
To the left of the gateway is the granary." So says Kendall. The gateway is
gone to-da3'. The granary, with its strong and curious flying buttresses and
arched stone roof, is still there and in it families make a home. The road still
enters the Mission Square just at the right of the granary, where the old en-
trance was. Here you are in full view of the facade of the Mi.ssion Buildings
with the square spreading out to the right or south of the long main building of
the Mission. The Mexican families .still exist in huts erected upon the ruins of
the ramparts of the Mission Square, and in a few years these now hardly to be
defined foundations will have been " improved " trom the place. At the south-
western corner of the Mission buildings is a belfry tower, about sixt}^ feet high.
It has four lookout windows and a pyramidical stone roof. Tucked in the angle
made by this tower and the .south wall of the large Chapel, is a peculiar round
tower to accommodate the winding stairway of solid hewn wooden steps to the
second story of the belfry tower. Frqm the second story are very curious stairs
or ladders made of solid tree trunks notched and dressed with an axe, leading to
the upper lookout of the tower. Here, are to be had some fine views of the
country. All over the tower chamber's walls are thousands of names of visitors.
Only a small portion of the large stone roof of the main Chapel remains and much
of the north wall has gone, leaving a great ugly gap on this .side and
the remnant of the roof verj^ unsafe in appearance. These portions of the Chapel
with its dome fell in with a great crash on a stormy night of December, 1S()S. To
the .south of the main Chapel is a smaller one, the window and carving of which
were referred to above. This is roofed by three domes, the tops of the enclosing
walls being serrated, all quite in Moorish style. The entrance to this Chapel is
from the east from an ante-chamber or wing of the cloisters. The arch and side-
stones of the entry door are beautifully sculptured, and here, there still remain,
much chipped, once finely carved, cedar double doors, and although so badly dam-
aged they suggest to one's mind what the l)eaut3^ of the front doors or gates at the

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Online LibraryWilliam CornerSan Antonio de Bexar; a guide and history → online text (page 3 of 22)