Mission San Antonio de Valero, San Antonio, Texas

Mission San Antonio de Valero, dating from 1718, was the fifth and northernmost of the missions in the San Antonio area. Now in the heart of its namesake city, the old mission church represents a fruitful moment in Spanish Colonial architecture. Interestingly, the church was never finished; the front facade was completed up to about the 1.5 story level, and two bell towers (their windows are viewed flanking the central portals) were never completed. Presumably, the impressive, well-wrought front portal would have extended its Solomonic columns up to the second story if it had been completed. Everything above the large blocks of stone are later additions.

The sculpture on the front of Mission San Antonio de Valero are exquisite, showing some of the best technique in the San Antonio area.

If it had been completed, the church probably would have been the most elaborate of the churches in the area.

Photography is not allowed inside the church, but it is truly one of the most elegant, well-proportioned churches in America. Unfortunately, the original barrel vault and crossing dome were never completed. Colonial building technique “cheated” by not having masonry vaults, but rather stacking logs over pendentives that were then slathered with plaster, giving the impression of stone vaulting. The restoration of the building, with concrete, did not attempt to replicate the intended dome. The interesting mix of Mannerist, Renaissance and Baroque architecture continues in this church as well.

The old mission was taken over by the Texas, American and Confederate armies at various points, and functioned as an arms depot, among other uses. A second floor was added, along with a large wood frame roof. Inside the church, several doors up high still exist that point to the former second floor, along with indentations in the original pilasters for heavy floor beams. The iconic pediment does not date to the Spanish colonial period; instead, the US Army had attempted to “flesh out” the facade, with their clumsy attempt at what I suspect were supposed to be volutes.

Heavily restored and rebuilt (is that really the appropriate word when it was never finished in the first place?) in the early Twentieth Century, Mission San Antonio de Valero offers a fascinating look into the architecture of Spanish America.

Here are some cool cacti.

Update: And here’s one from the vault, added in October 2018:

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Frederick Z. Brown says:

    I am fascinated by the extraordinary role of the Catholic missions in California, Texan and elsewhere in what is today the United States. In particular, I am interested in the activities of my uncle, Dr. Frederick Zerban (MD, University of Pennsylvania, 1787) who was a doctor and commercial druggist in the clinic and medical hospital located in San Antonio de Valero in the period 1806-1809. It is my understanding that Dr. Zerban departed the clinic in 1809 or 1810, and that the hospital closed because of insufficient funding.

    Any information you may have on Dr. Zerban and the clinic/hospital at San Antonio de Valero would be most welcome. Thank you.

    1. Chris Naffziger says:

      Thanks for contacting me! Unfortunately, I’m not very knowledgeable of San Antonio’s history, and was actually just showcasing what I had seen on my vacation down there.

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