Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.
Octagonal Bank of New Zealand banker's desk carved from Australian red cedar, Dunedin, circa 1883.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mission San Jose in San Antonio -- Mon., Sep. 17

Think back in time. What do you remember? If you're like most Americans you remember living in a home, visiting with relatives, worshiping, celebrating holidays, and enjoying a life with a certain continuity to it.

Imagine if another culture conquered ours. All of a sudden, your language changes, your traditions are usurped and new ones imposed by someone else, and your traditions are suddenly considered pagan and wrong. Added to that, new diseases spread through your family and 70% of them die because they have no natural or built-up immunity. Welcome to the world of the Coahuiltecans (pronounced kwa-weel-tekens), several hunting and gathering bands of American Indians.

Mission San Jose tells the story of these Native Americans and their rough life in the 1600s. Even before the missions, the Coahuiltecans were being crowded out of their hunting grounds by the nomadic Apache and Comanche from the north. 

According to the National Park Service brochure:
"But a greater threat was the European diseases introduced by the Spanish, which eventually decimated their numbers. Struggling under such hardships, Coahuiltecans proved to be relatively willing recruits for the missionaries. In exchange for labor and conversion to Catholicism, Indians received food and refuge in missions."
In reading the displays in the Visitor Center, it is quite clear that the Catholic Church was not just helping the Indians, they were helping Spain create a foothold in the New World. 

Again, quoting the National Park brochure:
"Tales of riches spurred the early Spanish explorers northward across the Rio Grande...As dreams of wealth faded, the Spanish concentrated more fully on spreading the Catholic faith--the basis of Spanish colonial society--among the frontier Indians. Financed by the Crown, Franciscan missions served both Church and State. As an arm of the church, the mission was the vanguard for converting the Indians spiritually. As an agent of the state, the mission helped push the empire northward. Missions also offered Indians sanctuary from their enemies."
"The chain of missions established along the San Antonio River in the 1700s is a reminder of one of Spain's most successful attempts to extend its dominion northward from New Spain (present-day Mexico). Collectively they form the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America."
The Spanish missions helped form the foundation for the city of San Antonio. Here are photos of Mission San Jose.

Indian quarters.
The church (with kiln in front of Indian quarters).

Indian quarters. Kilns throughout grounds in front of Indian quarters.

Side door into church.

Detail of cherub head on door frame.
Beautiful arches of the Convento.

Church interior.

Teaching with stone: The frescoes and elaborate stone work were functional as well as artistic. The symbols and decorations were tools for teaching faith to Indians who had never heard of any of this before and couldn't yet understand their new language. 

There is a separate brochure dealing entirely with "Teaching with Stone." Here are some of the highlights:

Symbols of Catholicism and Spanish culture:
  • Heart: symbolic of love, piety, understanding, courage, devotion, sorrow, and joy. The three hearts found on the facade represent the Holy Family.
  • Pomegranate: symbolizes church because of the inner unity of the countless seeds in one fruit. A traditional symbol of purity, the pomegranate and its seeds symbolized the countless and growing number of converts. The juice's deep red color symbolizes the blood of Christ.
  • Shell: symbolizes baptism. Shell designs are frequently found above doorways and windows, symbolizing baptism as the entryway into Christianity.
  • Rose: red represents martyrdom; white represents purity.
  • Angels: serve as a link between God and Man, heaven and earth. San Jose's angels are cherubs and bear Native American features in their design.
  • Pinjante: replicate cut paper ornaments used to decorate for festive occasions.
On the main church entrance door below there are six saints represented. The oval rose window is an architectural term for the decorative window above the main door of a church. This is not Rosa's Window which is found in another photo.
Main entry into church.
Rosa's Window (also called Rose Window)

Rose Window explanation.

Today I learned more about the acequias, or aqueducts, built and used by the missions and surrounding farms. You can still see the acequias today. There is one behind Mission San Jose which powers a grist mill and I took photos there today.

Inside the grist mill.

Church side view.

Bell tower--chimes every 1/2 hour.
The granary.

Love this cactus growing on the roof.

Flower and shadow.

Outside of Mission San Jose walls.

My afternoon was beautiful and informative. Tomorrow the San Antonio Zoo. Stay tuned.

Welcome to Steve at My Life Outdoors. His wife just wrote an excellent blog about hiking with children. You can check it out at the link.

Travel Bug out.


  1. Thanks Susan for your comment about Bob's Red Mill. Hope to go there but I'll look around for the products. This is a wonderful informative post which I really enjoyed. Your description of yourself as a "hopeful romantic" would describe me as well. Hope to hear more from you.

  2. Glad you enjoyed this. My grandkids like doing the Junior Ranger program so this was a hit with them.

  3. We visited this mission in March over Spring Break. It was so interesting, and way less crowded than The Alamo. Great photos!


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