On the morning of September 14, plaster that had fallen from the dome was found on the floor of Mission Concepción.
Chunks of plaster from the church's dome litters the floor of Mission Concepción on Sept. 14. Credit: Courtesy / Father David Garcia

The church at Mission Concepción closed briefly over the weekend when a piece of plaster fell from the interior of the dome.

Father David Garcia, who oversees all four churches of the Spanish colonial missions, said the plaster fragment was discovered on Friday morning. It was not a large piece, he said, but he was still concerned about potential safety risks at the church, which is more than 250 years old.

“We closed the church that day and called a contractor and architect,” Garcia said. “The contractor went through the interior of the dome and removed any loose plaster and told us that everything was fine for Sunday Masses. We opened the church on Sunday for Masses with no incidents.”

Garcia said the inspecting architect told him she suspected the damage was caused by extra moisture from San Antonio’s heavy rains, and may have been exacerbated by demolition happening behind the church. Garcia said he contacted developers who are working behind the mission to ask them to minimize construction noise that could cause vibrations damaging to the church.

Construction and demolition work is occurring at the site of the former St. John’s Seminary, which is being redeveloped into an apartment complex, next to the mission.

There were no immediate plans to cover the areas where plaster peeled off of the dome, Garcia said.

“If we have a lot more moisture, if it continues to rain all winter long, we’re going to do regular inspections,” Garcia said. “But if we go back into the normal pattern of San Antonio, we’ll dry out, and I think we’ll be okay until June.”

A previously scheduled restoration of Concepción’s dome will start in June. Because of the scaffolding used during the restoration, Mission Concepción will not be available for any weddings over the summer, Garcia said.

“We need to take care of it,” he said. “Concepción is the only one of the four missions that never collapsed … because it’s basically built on rock. But that doesn’t mean it’s not any less fragile. These are old buildings. We are constantly monitoring them.”

Moisture has always been one of the biggest issues at the missions, Garcia said, and if heavy precipitation brings even more moisture to San Antonio in future years, it will cost the Archdiocese of San Antonio a lot more money to preserve the churches.

Plaster fell from the dome in Mission Concepción.
Plaster is missing from the dome of the Mission Concepción church. Credit: Courtesy / Jackie Wang

“Right now, I’m averaging about a million dollars a year to maintain and restore the four churches, and I’m not doing everything we should be doing,” Garcia said.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio oversees the four Old Spanish Missions’ churches. Garcia has been in charge of maintaining them for 11 years. Each mission is inspected once a year by contractors, architects, and the National Park Service, which manages the rest of the mission facilities.

Contractors also will update the electrical and air conditioning system in Mission Concepción between January and March.

Visitor hours and Masses at Concepción will continue on a normal schedule.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.