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Best reasons to visit each of the San Antonio Missions

For starters, its free and socially-distant fun

Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Live From the Southside)

Editor’s note: This story was published through a partnership between KSAT and Live From the Southside, a new local- and Latina-owned magazine that works to improve & expand community relationships through promoting events, stories and businesses.

The San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was designed to protect and preserve four Spanish frontier missions: Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission Espada.

The park, which is open and operating with social distancing measures in place, is free and an official unit of the National Park Service. The outposts of the missions were established by Franciscan friars, in order to spread Christianity knowledge to the region’s Native Americans. When first built, each mission complex featured things like churches, housing establishments, farm fields, granaries, irrigation systems, livestock and workshops for carpentry, masonry, spinning/weaving and toolmaking.

Here are some really great reasons to check out the San Antonio Missions on the South Side.

Mission Concepción

Mission Concepcion was first built along the Angelina River, located just northwest of Laneville in Rusk County, in 1716. It was later moved to San Antonio in 1731. On October 28, 1835, the grounds were the location of the Battle of Concepcion, between Mexican troops and Texian insurgents. The church, built in the shape of a cross in 1755, is the oldest, unrestored stone church in the United States.

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Mission Concepcion (National Park Service)

Mission San José

Mission San José is the largest of the Missions, known as the “Queen of the Missions.”

Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Live From the Southside)

Established in 1720, the Mission is home to the oldest grist mill in Texas. Originally built in 1794 and restored in 2001, the mill still operates today. The Mission is also home to the park’s Visitor Center, which features a 23-minute video, Gente de Razon (People of Reason), about the history of the missions and their people.

A popular feature of the church, built in 1768 using local limestone, is the Rose Window. It is “considered to be one of the finest examples of Baroque architecture in North America.” The window, sculpted in 1775, measures approximately 10-feet high and 6-feet wide. The craftsman of the Rose Window is unknown but it is thought that Pedro Huizar sculpted the window.

There are 2 popular theories behind the naming of the Rose Window. One is that it was named after the girlfriend of the craftsman, Rosa, after she tragically died at sea and the other is that it was named after Saint Rosa of Lima, the first saint of the New World.

Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Live From the Southside)

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Mission San Juan Capistrano was built in East Texas in 1716 and was later moved to San Antonio in 1731. It is named after Saint John Capestrano, a theologian and warrior priest from the small town of Capestrano, located in the Abruzzo region of Italy. The Mission is home to the popular Yanaguana Trail, a paved, shaded, tranquil nature trail. The 0.3-mile long trail runs along the San Antonio River, among an array of trees, vegetation and wildlife.

Mission San Juan Capistrano
Mission San Juan Capistrano (National Park Service)

Mission Espada

Mission Espada was built in 1690 near Weches, a community in Houston County and was later moved to San Antonio in 1731. Most of the original buildings were destroyed in 1826, as a result of a kitchen fire. All that remains today is the chapel. Popular at the Mission is the Espada Acequia, built in 1731 as a means of carrying water from the San Antonio River to Mission Espada. Still in use today, it is the only remaining Spanish aqueduct in the United States. In 1964, the aqueduct was designated a National Historic Landmark and in 1968, it was designated an Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Mission Espada Church Doorway
Mission Espada Church Doorway (National Park Service)

World Heritage Site

A World Heritage Site is “a place (such as a building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, or mountain) that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as being of special cultural or physical significance.” (source)

Currently, there are 1,092 World Heritage Sites in the world, 845 of them are cultural sites, 209 are natural sites and 38 are mixed sites. Currently, there are 23 World Heritage Sites in the United States, 12 of them are natural sites, 10 are cultural sites and 1 is a mixed site. Inscribed in July of 2015, the San Antonio Missions is the only World Heritage Site in the state of Texas.

Array of ways to explore

Each of the four Missions are approximately 2.5 miles apart, with a total distance between the four Missions approximately 6.5 miles.

The good news is that there is an array of ways to explore all of the Missions. You can experience them by bike, by bus, by car, on foot, by ride share, by taxi or by tour.

By bike (and by foot), you can ride your own bicycle along the Mission Reach, which is part of the San Antonio River Walk. If you don’t have your own bicycle, you can take advantage of San Antonio B-Cycle, an automated, public bicycle sharing system.

Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park
Mission San José at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Live From the Southside)

By bus, VIVA Bus Line 40, also known as the VIVA Missions Route, has stops at all 4 Missions. By ride share, you can choose either Lyft or Uber, both which have local drivers. By taxi, San Antonio Taxi is one of San Antonio’s largest taxi service and Yellow Cab is owned by the Greater San Antonio Transportation Company, San Antonio’s largest taxi service. Lastly, by tour, both San Antonio Detours and Viator offer 3-hour, fully guided tours of all 4 Missions.

Everything is pretty much free

Admission to the grounds of the Missions is free. If you choose to drive your own vehicle to the Missions, parking is free. Guided tours of the Missions, provided by a Park Ranger or a Volunteer Guide, are also free.

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