Photographing Mission Espada, one of San Antonio’s historic old Spanish missions
San Antonio’s string of old Spanish missions, built by missionaries in the 1700s, are recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Remarkably, some of these ancient buildings are still active Catholic chapels. Here, we are discussing Mission San Francisco de la Espada (Mission Espada).
Historic photographs of the Mission building
Not the Alamo
Probably every school kid in Texas visits at least one of San Antonio’s missions — the Alamo — which is one of the most famous and recognizable structures in the world. The Alamo receives 1.5 million visitors each year. It’s reported that a lot of the Alamo’s visitors exit underwhelmed because the site includes very little to give it historical context, and is surrounded by tacky tourist attractions. The other missions are less visited and less well known.
Mission Espada was founded in the 1690s, the second mission in what was then called New Spain. The mission relocated several times, due to droughts, disease outbreaks, and Native American hostilities. It was established on its current site in the 1730s, and the church was completed in 1756.
An interesting curiosity: Note the top-heavy arch over the front door. A mission caretaker told me that the people constructing the mission mistakenly placed the arch sections in the wrong order, stacking larger parts of the arch on top of smaller stones, creating a somewhat wonky appearance above the wooden doors. We can see in the 1902 photo (above) that the wooden doors are different than the current, beautifully carved doors. The caretaker said the current doors were probably added in the 1930s, when a restoration was performed to shore-up the structure, which had begun to show signs of failure.
Black and white photographs of Mission Espada in San Antonio
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Watch a behind-the-scenes video of my visit to Mission Espada
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