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South Texas Living

On a mission to enjoy history Mission Espada

On a mission to enjoy history Mission Espada

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Special to WCN
March 19, 2014
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This article originally appeared in the La Vernia News.

Between 1718 and 1731, a string of missions was built along the San Antonio River: the Alamo, Mission San Jose -- known as the Queen of the Missions --Mission Concepcion, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and the southmost mission, Mission San Francisco de la Espada. This mission was originally established in 1690 in Weches, Texas, 153 miles southeast of present-day Dallas. Like so many of the missions, Espada had a turbulent history, but was finally relocated along the banks of the San Antonio River in 1731.

The purpose of these missions was to convert local Native Americans to Christianity and to secure the territory for Spain. The natives to this area, the Coahuiltecan Indians, learned vocational skills, such as blacksmithing, weaving, brick- and stone-laying, carpentry, and farming, to provide products and food for people in and around the security of the missions. The missions also became economic trade centers that included livestock and crops.

During the late 1700s and early 1800s, all the missions fell into a state of neglect because of secularization. However, in the early 1900s, the Catholic Church regained control and responsibility and, since then, there has been a diligent effort to preserve the structural, historical, and spiritual significance of these magnificent treasures.

One of the interesting historical features of Mission Espada is the aqueduct system, known as the Espada Acequia. This method of bringing water to arid farmlands dates back to the Romans and Moors. The construction of a 15-mile network of gravity-flow channels was overseen by the Franciscan missionaries and was used to irrigate 3,500 acres of farmland.

In 1978, Mission San Francisco de la Espada and other missions along the San Antonio River became part of the San Antonio National Historical Park. In 1982, a legal opinion by the U.S. Department of Justice allowed the National Park Service to manage the parks, and the Archdiocese of San Antonio to use the missions as churches, creating a unique relationship between these two entities.

Like so many of the other missions in this area, this was a walled community for protection against warring Indian tribes and bandits. Remains of the Indian Quarters and the Granary are highly visible.

Take note of the church’s three iconic mission bells in the bell tower and the beautifully carved door and stone frame that lead into the small church. Mission Espada is an active parish and offers Mass every Saturday at 6 p.m. in English and Sunday at 10 a.m. in Spanish.

Inside the Visitor Center, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day), are many artifacts from the early era of Mission Espada. Through a large glass window, you can see into a circular bastion where defenders of the mission could shoot from behind thick stone walls. In October of 1835, James Bowie and James Fannin made Mission Espada their headquarters during the Texas War for Independence.

Don’t forget your camera. There are many great photo opportunities throughout the site.

Mission Espada is just a short drive from Wilson County into south San Antonio. After touring the mission, turn right out of the parking lot onto Espada Road and follow the signs to the Espada Aqueduct, about 1.5 miles.

There are no fees charged for visiting Mission Espada or the Espada Aqueduct, making this trip educational, inspiring, and economical.

Find out more at

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at They pen a travel column, “Everyday Journeys,” in the La Vernia News.

World Heritage site?

The Spanish colonial missions of San Antonio, including the Alamo, are gaining global recognition as the United States nominates them for inclusion on the World Heritage List. The World Heritage List recognizes the most significant cultural and natural sites in the world. Included are Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids of Egypt. If awarded, the missions would be the first World Heritage Site in Texas and only the 22nd in the United States, including Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

As protected historic sites, the missions host millions of visitors each year. All, except the Alamo, are still active Catholic parishes that serve surrounding communities and, in some cases, the descendants of the original people served by the missions.

The decision is to be rendered in 2015. The greatest economic impact would come from increased visitation and tourist spending.

For San Antonio, the impact would be even more significant, as tourism is one of the city’s top five industries, accounting for one in eight jobs and more than $12 billion annually. The five San Antonio Missions are expected to support $397 million in economic activity in 2025, regardless of World Heritage status.

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