All this week, and some of next, I will be examining the colonial development of the city of San Antonio, Texas, with emphasis on the series of Spanish Franciscan missions that line the San Antonio River. Contemporaneous with the earliest decades of the development of the city of St. Louis, which was founded at the same time as many of the missions in San Antonio, it raises interesting comparisons and contrasts with our own French colonial roots. The first mission we will look at is the Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña, which is located just to the south of the central city of San Antonio, and was dedicated in 1755.
The missions were located close enough to reap the defensive benefits of the nearby presidio, or colonial fort, but far enough away to not put pressure on the land. Mission Concepción stands out as the only mission in San Antonio to not lose its roof to neglect, and it is a fascinating mix of architectural styles. Part Baroque, part Mannerist, part Renaissance, the architecture evokes a fascinating moment in architectural history. Devout friars, thousands of miles from Spain, seemed to have conjured up designs from their memories (yes, there were probably amateur architects and masons among them), and the resulting church, while perhaps somewhat clumsy in execution (one can only imagine what savage words the great Italian architects Gianlorenzo Bernini or Carlo Maderno would have spoken at the rude attempts to copy their masterpieces in Rome) these mission churches still show a certain simple devotion and sincerity which greatly impressed me.
The friars and Native Americans who handcrafted the impressive doorway of the church surely did not understand classical proportion, but the enthusiasm of their sculpting does not fail to impress.
Sadly, the local stone is soft, resulting in deterioration of detail, but the original craftsmanship is still evident.
Improvised, and very simple Solomonic columns, lacking the more famous twisting element, flank the central portal.
Nowadays, visitors enter the church through the back door, through this elegant arcade.
Around back, one can observe the construction of the church.
While the dome is original, it has clearly been reinforced with concrete in places, particularly the roof.
The interior of the church, while heavily repainted, still gives the visitor a good impression of the original decorative scheme. Despite the mission church’s strong preservation, its accompanying buildings, where the Native American population would have lived, has largely been lost to the sands of time.
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The last phrase of your line “The friars and Native Americans who handcrafted the impressive doorway of the church surely did not understand classical proportion, but the enthusiasm of their sculpting does not fail to impress.” is one of the best you’ve written.
It gives credit to dedicated people who’ve done the best they could do – and could apply to other earnest efforts by persons who have spirit in their efforts at building.
En-thu-siasm = a god within.
This series of posts on the San Antonio missions has been really cool, Chris. I was fortunate last November to have been in San Antonio and got a bike and rode the Mission Trail, which is a new paved bike/walking path that follows the San Antonio River and connects to all the missions. It was a great way to see each of the sites and your photos and blog posts reminded me again of how cool they are.