Fr. David is director of the Old Spanish Missions for the Archdiocese of San Antonio and administrator of Mission Concepción Parish. Photo by Al Rendon.
Words by Fr. David Garcia:
Our missions remind us of our fabulous heritage; they remind us of a tremendous can-do spirit in the founders of San Antonio: the Spanish, the Franciscans, and the indigenous people worked together to create these fabulous treasures that we have today, that we hope will be designated as World Heritage sites. The founders came to this area at a time when there was very little here, when San Antonio was considered the “boondocks” of New Spain because there was nothing here. From almost bare earth, they created what now, almost 300 years later, are these structures that people come the world over to see, and that the community sees.
I think the community sees in these structures not only the spirit of San Antonio, but the spirit of the deep faith that brought the founders to build these monuments of faith, and the ongoing faith of the people who have used the churches for all these centuries, the people who have come to the churches every week and participate in the life of active parishes.
So the missions represent history, they represent tradition, they represent culture, they represent faith, and they represent spirituality. They are all of those things. And for the people who come to the missions, I think they represent something personal, something unique to every individual. As they come in, they are inspired; they may feel a sense of reverence, a sense of awe. Maybe they look at the artistic quality and they admire that and appreciate that. The missions tell each person that visits a different story. That’s why I think they are so wonderful, and such a treasure for our contemporary community.
Mission Concepción is the only one that is completely unrestored in terms of the structure. These are the original walls, the original ceilings, the original towers. Concepcion was built on a site that is very rocky and firm, so it hasn’t moved. The other missions were built on soil that moved to some degree, San Juan being the one that moved the most. So, over the centuries, those missions lost their roofs. The roofs caved in and some of the walls fell down, so those missions were restored. We carefully researched and followed the original plan and how they were decorated, and tried to follow that. Some of the other three are original and some is not. But I think the fact that they are active parishes today and have been active parishes over the course of 300 years, off and on, has added a lot to the fact that people wanted the missions enough to maintain their integrity to continue to be for new generations what they were for the previous generations.
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