Mission San Juan. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mission San Juan. Photo by Scott Ball.

For the many dedicated and often unsung people in San Antonio who labored over the years to preserve the San Antonio Missions and the Alamo and win them recognition as the first urban World Heritage site west of the Mississippi River, July 5 was a special day when UNESCO members in Bonn, Germany voted unanimously to place the Spanish colonial structures on the list of World Heritage sites.

Now the celebration of official inscription is about to unfold here over several days and events, Oct. 15-18. The inscription will be recognition that San Antonio has preserved its place in history as the meeting ground where European explorers and evangelizers and the indigenous peoples of the New World came together. That encounter is a complex story of settlement, Western expansion, conflict, violence, and epidemics, proselytization, and intermarriage and cultural exchange.

In many ways it remains a story not fully resolved, but World Heritage recognition certainly ratifies its importance and its interest to people all over the world.

“The World Heritage site just establishes that San Antonio is a global, world-class city and it shows that we share and take care of our stories,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) of the designation. “Having the official inscription plaque here in San Antonio will solidify it, I think it will be an emotional and exciting occasion. The world has recognized the valuable assets we have in our community, and we need to make the most of the opportunity.”

(From left) Rebecca Viagran (D3), Essen Deputy Mayor Rudolf Jelinek, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in Essen, Germany.  Photo by Jean-Luc-Mette.
(From left) Rebecca Viagran (D3), Essen Deputy Mayor Rudolf Jelinek, San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor in Essen, Germany. Photo by Jean-Luc-Mette.

After a lecture by Dr. J. Frank de la Teja at Alamo Hall on Thursday, the World Heritage weekend kicks off on Friday, Oct. 16, with rare tour of the Rancho de las Cabras, a mission property south of the city normally closed to the public. The City of Floresville will provide bus shuttles from the Civic Center to the site, where visitors can enjoy music, food and historic displays.  

Friday’s festivities continue with the “Restored by Night” event at Mission Concepción, which projects art on the mission’s front, illustrating its original facade. The event also will offer family-friendly activities, guided portal tours, music by DJ Steven Lee Moya and local food trucks on-site.  VIA and the City of San Antonio will provide free bus services to Mission Concepción that night.

Mission Concepción. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mission Concepción. Photo by Scott Ball.

The World Heritage site designation has elevated San Antonio’s missions and site in Wilson County to the same renown status as other U.S. sites like the Statue of Liberty, Independence Hall and the Grand Canyon. Sites more closely linked culturally to the Spanish colonial architecture here can be found throughout Spain, France and Italy, dating as far back as the Middle Ages, but often enough about the Catholic Church as a powerful religious and political force. 

Susan Snow, the archaeologist for San Antonio Missions, has coordinated World Heritage efforts since 2006.

“This designation is important for many reasons;this was the original ‘melting pot’ before the rest of America; we produced a new culture here in South Texas,” Snow said. “From a historical standpoint, it shows we had a role in the development of global influence, and on a modern level it’s important because it’s something that can bring us together today. Whether we’re seventh generation San Antonians, or we just moved here two months ago; it’s a common bond.”

On Saturday, Oct. 17,  visitors can expect to be greeted by charros on horseback and mariachis at Mission San Josê. From 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., families can explore the area’s history and artifacts, thanks to a special archaeology dig taking place just outside the mission walls.

Mission San José. Photo by Scott Ball.
Mission San José, the “Queen of the Missions.” Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The official San Antonio Missions World Heritage Inscription Ceremony will take place at Mission San Jose at 11 a.m. Special guests include a representative from the Department of the Interior in Washington D.C., ambassadors and dignitaries from Mexico and the Fort Sam Houston Band.

VIA will again provide shuttle services for San Antonians to tour each mission from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Head to Mission San Jose for the National Park Service Centennial Concert featuring free performances, including a 7 p.m. show by Ramos and the Mexican Revolution. Attendance will be capped at 5,000 people, so keep an eye on the home site to get free tickets before the event.  Sunday, Oct. 18 wraps ups the weekend celebrations with a special outdoor community mass celebrated by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller at Mission San José.

Visit www.MissionsofSanAntonio.org to learn more about World Heritage activities, event updates and VIA transportation options. And keep an eye on the Rivard Report for more coverage.

What does World heritage site recognition of the Spanish Mission, the Alamo and Rancho las Cabras mean for you? We’d love to hear your stories and consider them for publication, whether you and your family are descendants of indigenous people here, members of the mission parishes, someone who has worked on preservation or inscription, or simply someone who finds meaning living in a World Heritage city. Please post comments here, on the Rivard Report Facebook page, or send your story submissions to iris@rivardreport.com.

*Top image: Mission San Juan.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

Related Stories:

San Antonio’s World Heritage Balancing Act

Native Americans to Guide San Antonio Mission Tours

Mission San José Neighbors: Apartments Too Close for Comfort

The Missions: Our Southside Spiritual and Cultural Anchors

San Antonio Missions Upgrade City Status

Avatar photo

Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.