San Antonio Missions National Historical Park | MISSION SAN JOSE

Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

LOCATION

6701 San Jose Drive
San Antonio, TX 78214

MISSION HISTORY

Mission San José, which is officially called Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, was founded in 1720 by Father Margil de Jesús. It was the second mission in San Antonio, with the first being Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo. The mission—which refers to the entire community, not just the physical buildings—consisted of a church, granary, convento (rooms and offices for the clergy), a multi-acre yard used for living and working space, and a defensive wall that surrounded the entire property. Living quarters were built into the walls. A vast expanse of land for farming and grazing outside the compound was also owned by the mission. Mission San José was the largest Spanish mission in North America.

The church of Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The church of Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The purpose of the Spanish missions was to convert local Indians into Catholics and tax-paying Spanish citizens. The lure was the security of a steady supply of food obtained by farming and the raising of livestock and protection from warring Apache Indians, who hated the missions and the Spanish, and Comanche Indians, who hated the missions, the Spanish, and the Apache. A mission functioned as a typical Spanish village, and those who joined had to learn Spanish and Latin, attend religious services and instruction, and develop skills necessary to build a self-sufficient community. Blacksmithing, farming, weaving, carpentry, stone cutting, and masonry were some of the skills taught at the missions. Keep in mind that not every Indian was itching to get in, and many of those who did join ran off in the middle of the night, so there was always a turnover in the congregation. For most missions, populations were typically between 100 and 200 people at any given time, with peak populations hitting 400.

The original structures at Mission San José were jacales: buildings made of cedar posts, mud walls, and thatched roofs. Starting around 1755, these were replaced with more permanent stone structures, some of which still stand today.

Layout of Mission San Jose

Layout of Mission San José

The church of Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The church of Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Once the Indians had become Catholics and loyal Spanish citizens, it was always the plan of the missionaries to turn everything over to them so that they could run their own villages. Called secularization, this process began in 1793 and was hastened along when Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. By 1824, the mission system had come to a complete end everywhere.  Once secularized, the church was run by the local Bishop, the Indians got to keep their apartments and were allotted land to farm, and excess land and buildings were auctioned off to anyone with money.

With the Spanish government no longer backing the missions, the buildings began to deteriorate. Most of the physical structures you see today at Mission San José are reconstructions based on historical and archeological evidence—only 30 percent is original. Restoration projects in the 1920s were carried out by the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Catholic Archdiocese. However, most of the restoration was done in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), an organization designed to get men back to work during the Great Depression by building public works in urban areas.

The walls of Mission San José, which included living quarters for the Indians, were built around 1755. Almost nothing original stands today, but this is not necessarily due to deterioration. Once the walls were no longer needed for protection, they were often torn down so that the stone could be used by the people to build new houses in the surrounding areas.

In the 1920s, archeologists were able to determine the layout of the original walls, and the WPA built new ones on the same locations. When the walls were reconstructed, a few of the living quarters were also reconstructed so that visitors could go inside. The rooms near the entrance of the mission closest to the National Park Service’s Visitor Center are empty, but those in the wall behind the church building are furnished as they might have been back in the 1700s.

Reconstructed outer walls of the Mission San Jose compound in San Antonio

Reconstructed outer walls of the Mission San José compound in San Antonio

Indian living quarters at Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Indian living quarters at Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Indian living quarters at Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Indian living quarters at Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The San Antonio missions were not manned with a significant number of soldiers, so the people living inside had to learn basic defensive skills. To help matters, the mission walls, which served the same purpose as the walls of a typical fort, were often built to include bastions: common defensive structures of a fort that protrude out from the walls at the corners. Bastions allow armed men and cannon located inside to shoot parallel along the wall at enemies who cannot be shot at by those stationed directly on the wall itself. Only one bastion remains at Mission San José, and this was also reconstructed by the WPA. It is located on the southeast corner of the mission compound and is open so that visitors can go inside. However, it may not be historically accurate since authenticity was not a top priority of the WPA.

Example of coverage possible by men stationed in a bastion

Example of coverage possible by men stationed in a bastion

Inside the southeast-corner bastion of Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Inside the southeast-corner bastion of Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

In addition to defensive walls, all missions had a convento. This structure typically housed rooms for the Spanish friars and mission guests, offices, workshops, storage spaces, an infirmary, and a kitchen and dining area. The convento at Mission San José—the structure with multiple archways located on the right side of the church building—was built around 1755 and expanded in the 1780s. It had nine rooms on the lower floor and five on the upper. Like everything else, after secularization it began to fall apart. Between 1859 and 1868, it was partially restored by Benedictine Monks from Philadelphia who were trying to establish a school. What stands today is mainly from the Benedictine Monk restoration.

The Convento of Mission San Jose, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The Convento of Mission San José, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The rounded Roman arches and the pointed Gothic arches on the top floor of the convento are original. The Gothic arches constructed with red bricks on the bottom floor are from the Benedictine Monk restoration. Because of the Civil War and a tuberculosis outbreak, the project was never completed, and the monks moved back to Philadelphia.

Arches of Mission San Jose's convento, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Arches of Mission San José’s convento, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Inside the ruins of Mission San Jose's convento at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Inside the ruins of Mission San José’s convento at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

The Mission San José church itself is made of limestone that was quarried near Mission Concepción. Construction began in 1768 and was finished around 1782. It gradually deteriorated as well, and by the 1870s the dome and roof had collapsed. The bell tower has collapsed twice. It was restored once by the WPA and once by the Catholic Archdiocese. The front of the church has never collapsed and is thus original. However, many of the statues that adorn the entranceway are restorations.

Front of Mission San Jose's church building, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Front of Mission San José’s church building, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Entrance of San Jose's church building in San Antonio

Entrance of San José’s church building in San Antonio

One of the most famous features of the Mission San José church is the Rose Window. Nobody knows for sure who designed it or how it got its name, but most likely it was dedicated to Saint Rose of Lima.

Rose window of Mission San Jose's church, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Rose window of Mission San Jose’s church, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

In 1931 the Franciscans returned to the mission and reestablished the Catholic Church. Today Mission San José is an active church. It is typically open to visitors daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, though it may be closed at anytime for church services, weddings, funerals, and other functions. Visitors are welcome inside. There is no fee to enter, but donations are appreciated. The mission grounds are open daily from sunrise to sunset.

Interior of the Mission San Jose church in San Antonio

Interior of the Mission San José church in San Antonio

Alter of the Mission San Jose church in San Antonio

Alter of the Mission San José church in San Antonio

Interior of the Mission San Jose church in San Antonio

Interior of the Mission San José church in San Antonio

Guided tours of the Mission San José grounds are given by National Park Service Rangers every day at 10 AM and 11 AM. The tour does not include entry into the church, so participants must do that on their own. I highly suggest taking the tour if you can fit it into your schedule and do additional exploring on your own either before or afterwards. If you take the tour, plan to spend two to three hours at Mission San José, which also gives you time to stop at the Visitor Center and check out the park film and small museum.

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Last updated on June 14, 2022
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