While the Alamo is the most well known mission in the state of Texas, four other missions provide a glimpse into Spanish colonization back in the 18th century. These four outposts are all conveniently located within proximity to the San Antonio River, a vital resource for survival in the often unforgiving landscape. The missions are active churches and part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park which is operated by the United States National Park Service.
The furthest south, the Mission Espada, was founded in 1731. The grounds are mostly in ruins, save for the church itself and a portion of the south-eastern corner which holds the visitor’s centre and offices. A path follows the original walls where footprints of the original residences and storerooms remain.
A short distance north of the Mission Espada is the Mission San Juan Capistrano, which was first settled in 1731. The church is intact with the remains of another chapel that was under construction across the plaza. The convento, or dormitories for the priests, and Indian residences are in ruins with only the walls left standing.
One of the larger outposts, the Mission San José was founded in 1720 with the main church constructed in 1768. The expansive grounds feature many residences built into the outer wall, storerooms and a functional mill powered by water from a local acequia (an irrigation ditch). The National Park Service maintains a gift shop and theatre inside the visitor centre.
All that remains of the Mission Concepción is the church and some adjacent supporting structures. The mission, from 1731, is well preserved, with some of the side rooms furnished with statues of saints and other religious icons. It was hear that an early skirmish between the Texians and Mexican Army faced off leading to the start of the Texas Revolution.
The missions don’t attract as much attention as the Alamo does, but are full of displays and exhibits that delve into life of the priests and Indians. Start early and take some time to stroll the many paths that wind through each location for the full experience. Don’t forget to bring a bottle of water, especially during the warmer months. Can’t make it? Browse through the photos from all four missions on Gallery.