Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mission San Francisco de la Espada

Mission Espada is the farthest south of the five missions the Spaniards established in the San Antonio area.  Today the peacefulness of the property conceals the troubled beginning of the mission and its struggle to survive. It is hard to imagine the raids of the Apache and Comanche Indians, the battle here just before the battle of the Alamo, and the mission buildings crumbling back into the South Texas brush land.  But the fruits of a hard working priest and dedicated preservations are visible today. 

The mission was established at this location on March 5, 1731, one of three missions being relocated from East Texas.  The mission had originally been established near present day Nacogdoches in 1690.  It was abandoned 3 years later and then re-opened in 1716 at another site about 10 miles away.  That mission would also be abandoned.  In 1721 the mission would be reestablished on the Neches River.  In 1730 the missionaries and some Indians left East Texas, hauling their goods and supplies in wagons with the livestock following along side.  East Texas had not been kind to the Franciscans; illness and hostility with the French forced their departure.
The door of the chapel is intriguing.  Its irregular arch has been the subject of much speculation.  The most popular theory is that the master stonemason had left Espada and the workers left behind were unsure of how to place the stones and reversed the two lower stones on each side.  However, the design has also been considered to be Moorish and has been compared to similar doorways and facades found in northern Spain.  It is one of my favorite parts of the mission.

By the early 1880's all that was left of the chapel was the crumbling façade.  The missions had been secularized in 1824 and had all fallen into disrepair.  The Espada community remained active and vibrant, but the mission had almost completely disappeared when Father Francis Bouchu came to Espada in 1885.    Father Bouchu was a man of many skills and an efficient manager as well. Upon coming to Espada he embarked on a one man project of restoring the mission property.  He rebuilt the convent for his residence and added a general store on one end.  He managed the store at first and used the proceeds to purchase former mission tracts from private owners.  The chapel was re-built by 1887.  After his death in 1907 the chapel was closed and would not re-open until 1911 with  a new roof, ceiling, doors and windows as well as a brick floor.
Interior of chapel
The mission underwent extensive restoration in 1955.  Old walls were reconstructed and a public road that ran through the mission was re-routed.  In 1967 the Franciscans would return.  Restoration work was done again in 1984 by the National Park Service after the formation of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park.  As with Mission San Jose, the Catholic Church owns and maintains the church to honor separation of church and state.

A fire in the chapel's roof in 1998 was quickly extinguished, but damaged the roof and interior. The restoration that followed restored the roof to a previous design and allowed for the small attic space to be converted to accommodate modern air-conditioning equipment.

One of the priests who lives in the Convento is an avid gardener; his love of flowers is evident around the convento.  I've never talked to him, but have seen him standing in the sun on a hot Texas day in his long priest frock coat talking gardening with visitors!  The changes which Father Bouchu made to the convento have been removed so that it resembles the original convento. The walls in the foreground of the above picture are the restored foundation walls of another chapel which started construction in 1762.  This structure was torn down sometime around 1777 when it was deemed as unsafe.
During the years the Mission was in use the convento building had two workrooms that housed weaving looms and spinning wheels. Each mission had to be self sufficient and Indians were required to learn trades and skills such as spinning and weaving.  Blacksmithing was another skill taught to the Indians.  The Spaniards felt that teaching European skills to the Indians was vital to the colonization process. 

The focus of the Espada visitor center is on the trades and crafts taught to the Indians.  On my last visit a kind docent who is a member of a local weaving guild talked with me at length about weaving and demonstrated the loom set up in the visitor center.

This unique circular bastion was added by soldiers of the Mexican Army sent to Espada after a Comanche raid in 1826 destroyed crops, killed livestock and wounded several men. In 1915 the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word opened a school within the perimeter of the walls formed by the bastion.  It would operate here for 52 years while serving the many ethnic groups of the Espada community.
Perimeter walls
The original walls were built of bricks made on site and fired in a kiln just beyond the walls.  These bricks were thinner and wider than bricks of today.  The "ladrillos" closely resembled the size and shape of Roman bricks that had been brought into Spain more than two thousand years ago. The master craftsmen that built the missions were mestizos, part Indian and part European.

Ruins of Indian quarters

1 comment:

  1. Nice pictures. I have also been fascinated by the front door mystery and decided to see where some serious research would take me.
    The outcome was the following website.