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Editor’s note: One big map. One dart. Ten enterprising journalists. The result is Bexar’s Eye, a weekly series aimed – literally – at uncovering previously untold stories about people, places, and practices in San Antonio and surrounding areas. We asked each of our journalists to throw a dart at a map of Bexar County and find a story wherever the dart lands. What you’ll read in this series are just some of the many stories San Antonio holds.
Mike Muñoz grew up on the South side of San Antonio, and every Sunday his family would make the short trip to Mission San José to attend mass at the historic church on site.
Nestled along the banks of the San Antonio River just south of Downtown, Mission San José is the largest and most ornate of San Antonio’s five missions, and its sprawling grounds often hosted Muñoz “family hangouts,” he said.
So when he and his now-wife Jodie Muñoz decided to tie the knot, they did so at Mission San José, because of his and Jodie’s personal ties to the UNESCO World Heritage site.
“The site was a very personal choice for us because [Mike’s] father used to be a deacon at the mission church, but he had passed away before we married,” Jodie said. “My [deceased] parents also attended that church prior to me meeting my husband, so we wanted to have it there to feel their presence and feel that sense of inclusion even though they were no longer with us.”
In addition to being bound by family memories inside of the nearly 300-year-old church, the Muñozes said they were also drawn to its architectural beauty. They’re one of the dozens of couples who get hitched in the historic structure every year. Centuries worth of love stories also attract couples to the site.
With its façade carved from native limestone and – along the south wall of the church sacristy – La Ventana de Rosa/the Rose Window, deemed one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in North America, Mission San José is considered the most beautiful of San Antonio’s historic missions, and has thus been dubbed “Queen of the Missions.”
Behind the intricate detail and repeating arches that cast elegant shadows along its walkways, a legend of love and longing is said to be at the heart of the mission’s beauty.
When the Rose Window was sculpted in in 1775, nothing of its scale and intricacy existed in the U.S. A noted Spanish sculptor named Pedro Huizar, charged with carving a religious window at Mission San José, stepped outside of the tradition of simplicity and instead carved a 7-foot-tall monument along the south wall. The sculpture is said to be a monument to his sweetheart, Rosa.
Four carved arches jut out from the rectangular window frame, and limestone leaves lie across the stone alongside carvings of blossoming pomegranates. A wrought-iron grate of curlicues covers the glass.
Vincent Huizar, a sixth-generation descendant of Pedro Huizar, said that two rose window stories have been passed down by family members over time: One includes a story of a heartbroken Huizar carving the intricate designs as an homage to his lover lost at sea and another claiming the window was named after Saint Rosa of Lima, the first saint of the New World.
According to local archaeologist and historian Jake Ivey, that romantic story dates back to as early as 1909, when Nora Franklin McCormick wrote in “San Antonio, Historical and Modern” that the window was carved by a Spaniard who “crossed the seas to make a fortune for the girl he loved, who was to wait for him, keeping faith until he should return.”
Muñoz said he was told the window was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, but he “doesn’t know how true that story is either.”
Nevertheless, the rose window continues to be one of the most popular features of Mission San José, which had more than 310,000 visitors in 2019, said Justine Hanrahan, visual information specialist for the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. She said the window was constructed to serve as a gathering point during Holy Communion for mission residents who were not baptized. But it has undoubtedly taken on a romantic life outside of that traditional role, especially for people who marry at the historic site.
Around 57 weddings per year happen at the church at Mission San José, including the wedding of Melissa Pacheco-Ozuñiga’s daughter in 2016.
“The beauty and the history behind the mission is why my daughter wanted to stray away from our home parish and have her wedding at Mission San José,” Pacheco-Ozuñiga said. “Everything about the church is just magical.”
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She wasn’t familiar with the romantic story surrounding the rose window, but “it’s almost 300 years old, so I imagine a lot of different histories have been shared and re-shared over time,” she said.
“The one thing that likely hasn’t changed is the [San Antonio] community’s love and support and awe of the mission,” Pacheco-Ozuñiga said, noting that besides her daughter’s wedding, her favorite memories include the annual Mission Fest, and the light show put on several times per year, which “helps keep people thinking about the mission and its history.”
Around the turn of the century, copies of the window began appearing all over San Antonio, an homage both to the mission and the window’s significance. They can be found on the exterior of the old Joske’s Building, now part of the Shops at Rivercenter; the St. Mary’s Street railroad underpass south of downtown; and a restored historic courtroom in the Bexar County Courthouse.
The Muñozes said for them, the best part of their wedding day happened inside the church, in a small room next to the church where Mike first saw Jodie in her wedding dress ahead of the ceremony.
“It was just us, in a little moment of calm before the ceremony after a crazy morning leading up to a day we absolutely loved and will never forget,” Jodie said. “And learning that there is a love story behind our love story there [makes it even more] special.”