Mission San José, San Antonio

The Sacred and the Secular at San Antonio’s Historic Missions

San Antonio, Texas, boasts a magnificent World Heritage treasure in their Spanish colonial missions. Visitors will find five of these missions in the city. The most famous is downtown, the iconic Alamo. The other four, stretching southward from downtown along the San Antonio River, make up the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Since 1983 this park has welcomed tourists, schoolchildren, and other curious visitors to enjoy the tranquil beauty of the missions and to learn about the colonial history of the mission communities. Under the protection of the National Park Service, these jewels of the Texan cultural landscape survive for the pleasure and education of new generations of visitors.

Sun fresco at Mission Concepción, San Antonio
Sun fresco on ceiling of convento at Mission Concepción, San Antonio, Texas (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2016)

Sacred or Secular?

Are the San Antonio missions sacred or secular? Contemporary parish communities active at all four mission sites offer a unique attraction for visitors to the national park. Most guests regard the churches as the most appealing feature of the park, but in fact they don’t belong to the park at all — the churches remain the property of the Catholic Church. They may be beautiful examples of colonial architecture and art, but they are also sacramental places of religious devotion and contemplation. More than merely secular attractions for the tourist trade, these churches represent a “simultaneity of places” (as I demonstrate in Blessed with Tourists). ♨

Mission San José, San Antonio
Mission San José, San Antonio, Texas (Photo by T.S. Bremer, 2016)

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