Mission San Antonio de Valero — the Alamo — was the first mission built in what is now San Antonio. Additional missions were later built along the San Antonia River to serve the Indian population and protect Spain’s land interest in what is now Texas.
Just as the Alamo was the first mission built here, it is often one of the first attractions guests seek out when they visit the city. San Antonio Missions National Historical Park offers important local, state and national history you won’t want to miss.
The Alamo Trolley — a hop-on, hop-off tour bus — is the easiest way to visit the missions which are spread out along the river.
San José Mission
Beginning in the 16th century, missionaries — accompanied by a few soldiers — began moving north from Mexico to establish missions in an attempt to Christianize the native population and make them Spanish citizens. By 1718 missions extended to the San Antonio River, helping develop the future city of San Antonio. San José, Concepcion, San Juan and Espada missions are still active Catholic parishes and hold regular services.
San José, for example, was founded in 1720. Named for Saint Joseph and built several miles south of the Alamo, this mission was established to serve as a vocational and educational center, and economic enterprises involving agricultural and ranching endeavors, and regional trade.
The walled community was home to Native Americans and friars. Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center and became known as the Queen of the Missions.
Immediately after you enter one of the gateways, you’ll be encircled in Spanish and Mexican charm. Living quarters were built against the compound’s stone walls for Indians recently converted to Catholicism, and Spanish soldiers — usually only one or two with their families. The homes are beautifully represented in their simplicity.
Spanish missions were not churches, but communities, with the church being the focus. Mission San José shows the visitor how all the missions might have looked over 250 years ago. The sacristy and church is always the centerpiece of the mission.
While admiring the beauty of the sacristy, make sure to seek-out La Ventana de Rosa, the Rose Window. The window was sculpted circa 1775 and has been the object of both legend and admiration. The window has been described during the Feast of Pentecost as the site where the host was shown to gathered mission celebrants.
The cedar panel of the sacristy door is original to San José and may be one of very few wooden items to survive from the colonial period. The door is located on the east wall of the sacristy.
The church is a spiritual space. Even if you’re not Catholic, light a candle in memory of a loved one and take the time to drink in the beauty.
If you go:
Centuries passed and eventually the mission fell into disrepair and partial ruin. The San Antonio Conservation Society, the Federal Government and other conservationists began restoring the mission in the 1920s and 1930s.
The church — which had lost its dome, bell tower and a wall — was rededicated in 1937. In 1941, Mission San José was declared a State Historic Site, and later that same year, a National Historic Site.
The missions are open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is Free.
The visitor center is located next to Mission San José and contains a theater showing a 20-minute depiction of early life at the mission, a museum and book shop.
For more information check the website.
For more information on Alamo Trolley, check the website.
For information on other San Antonio attractions, restaurants and accommodations, check the website.