During my most recent trip to San Antonio, I spent a full day exploring the city’s legendary missions. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site and managed by the U.S. National Park Service, the four attractions stand as a reminder to the spirit of the Spaniards, who centralized their missionary efforts in Texas around the sites in San Antonio in the early 1700s.
The four churches—Mission Concepción, Mission San José, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada—are spread along a 10-mile corridor beginning near downtown San Antonio and stretching south into the countryside. In late 2013, the city added a network of hiking, biking and paddling trails to connect the River Walk with the missions, and I chose a bicycle as my mode of transportation on that sunshiny December day.
The not-too-hilly, well-paved pathways allowed me to get good exercise and enjoy some great sights. The missions are a diverse group. Concepción and San José are home to larger, more intact buildings and stately churches, while Capistrano and Espada beckon with more rustic spaces and quaint country churches. I was fascinated by the attention the Spanish missionaries paid to not only the architectural details of the buildings, but also to the layout of grounds as they set up what really were minicommunities.
Although I didn’t take time for them, ranger-led programs are available at all four sites. Additionally, each of the sites is home to an active Catholic parish and a regular worshipping congregation. The next time I visit San Antonio, catching a service at one of these historical sites is on my list.
NOTE: The fifth, and best known, mission in San Antonio, the Alamo, is not part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Top photo: Mission San José, part of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Photos by Pat Henderson
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