The San Antonio Missions in San Antonio, Texas consist of four 18th century churches and grounds that began as an outreach of the Kingdom of Spain and the Catholic Church. Supervised by the National Park Service, the mission churches still have religious services and are a vibrant part of the parochial life of the Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Visitors to the missions have a unique opportunity to view not just historical buildings, but also artifacts of an important period in Texan history and in the history of the Catholic Church. Tourists may attend mass or simply enjoy the beauty of the churches and the abundant wildlife that lives on the mission grounds.
Tours may be taken of the churches and the grounds, and reservations are required for groups seeking tours. The following missions are part of the San Antonio Mission group: Espada, San José, San Juan Capistrano, and Concepción. It should be noted that San Antonio de Valero mission, commonly called The Alamo, is not part of the San Antonio Missions and is not operated by the National Park System.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Franciscan Fathers from Spain and Mexico traveled to Texas, then part of New Spain, to minister to the needs of the Native American people and to spread their religious message. The missions, in addition to serving as religious centers, also became economic trade hubs and were widely involved in agricultural production and the ranching of cattle and other livestock. All four of these missions were home to priests, soldiers, and native people who had converted to Christianity and who served the church with farm work or by learning a trade. In 1824, the mission system was abandoned, as the church could no longer fulfill its role due to the increasing demand of ranchers and other business interests regarding the control of the church’s lands.
Before the mission system ended in 1824, the missions played a crucial role not just in religion, trade, and agriculture, but also as strong community centers and places of refuge. Throughout the 18th century, the people of south Texas battled such ills as disease, drought, flooding, and Apache raids from the north, and the missions became safe places offering shelter and medicine. Those people who called upon the missions for sanctuary were required to become subjects of the Spanish king and needed to convert from tribal religions to the Catholic faith.