Like all the other San Antonio Missions, San Francisco de las Espada was first established elsewhere in 1690 (and dedicated to San Francisco de los Tejas - Tejas was the name the Spanish gave to Nabedache Indians who inhabited the area where the mission was first built), making it the oldest mission foundation in Texas. When the mission transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada in 1731 it was the last to be in the line of missions along the San Antonio River. The church we see today was completed in 1756.
Like all the other other Missions, Mission Espada was a self-sufficient community, growing crops, raising stock, producing practical items for use by the mission in workshops. Today the church is well preserved and lovingly tended. Evidence of the larger function of the mission can be seen in the ruins of the convento and granary while the kilns here are the only known lime kilns to survive from the period in Texas. . A fortified tower also remains - it is known that James Bowie and a small detachment of the Texian Army made a stand at Espada on October 22, 1835.
Nearby you can see the only Spanish aqueduct stilll to be found in the United States. The missions made great use of the river's waters to irrigate their crops. Using ancient techniques brought to Spain by the mediaeval Moorish rulers, they constructed an elaborate system of "acequias" (irrigation channels) to carry the water from the river to the fields water. By means of numerous acequias, dams and an aqueduct constructed by the Indian workers they were able to irrigate over 3,500 acres of land in the San Antonio region and grow a wide variety of crops throughout the year.
Mission de la Espada (means 'of the sword') is named for St. Francis of Assisi who was founder of the Franciscan order. Naming the mission as such, honors St. Francis' decision to be a soldier of God. The mission is still used by the order, as well as, being an active parish.
Originally named San Franciso de los Tejas when it was constructed in 1690, it was moved to the San Antonio river area in 1731. At that time, it was renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. It is the oldest of the four missions. The original church no longer exists, so the sacristy has been utilized in its place.
Espada was the sole mission producing bricks, but the converted native peoples were also taught how to weave, cut stone, repair broken equipment on the farm and introduced to metal working.
The elaborate entranceway to the church is in the Moorish style. It has been suggested that the original architect, Anthony Tello of Mexico, had to leave the mission unexpectedly and those Indians skilled in stonecutting had to complete the pattern for the doorway themselves, creating this atypical look.
The mission received James Bowie (Battle of Alamo) and James Fannin, Jr. when they arrived in October 22, 1835 accompanied by one hundred men with the intention of making this mission their headquarters during the War of Independence.
It doesn't always rain regularly in Texas, so the missions had to devise a water system. They used flow ditch systems, known as acequias for irrigation. Mission Espada's system is pretty much still in place. It was constructed in 1745 and still in use today.
Enlarged photo of the Moorish Entryway (picture 2)
Altar and Sanctuary (picture 3)
The Old Mission Well (picture 4)
The Brick Making Building (picture 5)
The missions are open daily from 9am-5pm except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. The admission is free.
Spain founded Mission San Francisco de los Tejas in 1690, at a location in east Texas, to act as a buffer against French encroachment from Louisiana, and convert the local Coahuiltecan (kwa-weel-teken) hunting and gathering cultures to be servants of God and productive Spanish citizens. The Tejas mission was the first Spanish mission in Texas.
Disease, attack, fire and lack of supplies caused the relocation of this mission to its present site along the San Antonio River and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada on March 5, 1731. In 1745, a friary was built, and the church was completed in 1756.
For fifty years, the Spanish Franciscan missionaries taught the Native Indians the ways of Spanish culture and trades that would make them valuable and productive inhabitants. As technology progressed, so did the learned trades of the Indians. These skills proved beneficial to post-colonial growth of the San Antonio River area.
Attracted by the protection and constant food supply at the mission, many local Coahuiltecans embraced the mission and Christianity. By the 1700s, Espada was a thriving, self-contained community. Secularization of the mission to a church-based community began in 1794, but the impoverished mission could not continue. The 15 families of converted Indians received what land was available, but had to share the limited equipment and supplies the mission had.
Comanches raided the mission lands in 1826, killing all the livestock and destroyed the cornfields. Also, that year, a kitchen fire destroyed most of the buildings, yet the converted locals continued to make this place home.
In November 1978, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established to help preserve the missions. The church still holds service on Sundays. There are remains of many of the structures around the church.
Built in 1731, Mission San Francisco de la Espada is the southernmost San Antonio Mission and was the only Texas mission which produced brick for construction. The other unique feature of the mission is the front entrance to the church...after the initial architect left, the new builder completed the project and created a unique doorway. Many claim the initial design was a standard arch, but the second builder misunderstood the plans and created a beautiful and unique archway consisting if a different design than most others.
The southernmost of the San Antonio missions and number 5 on the trail. Founded in 1731 it is best known for its well preserved irrigation system that provided water for the crops. The Espada dam and aqueduct are still working today.
Mision San Francisco De la Espada - Mission of Saint Francis of the Sword (not sure of this translation actually): one of the 4 missions in San Antonio (5 including the Alamo). More info will follow.
I liked Mission Espada alot because it's a smaller mission that doesn't take too much time, other people were also here so I didn't feel quite as worried, and the Ranger Station/Visitors Center had the stamps for the other missions' passport. The passports were really cute, especially if you're toting children along. I just wished I had learned about the program as I was visiting the last 3 missions.
I also enjoyed going inside the church and finding a sign on the table upon entering asking the visitors to close to door to keep out cats and dust. Made me smile, at least.
There are many different areas exposed here with about a foot of stones left to show the rooms that once stood. The areas are marked properly and things are pretty close together, so if you have some physical limitations this mission would probably be the most easily accessible.
But that was my experience...Here's more about the history from the National Missions' website:
"Founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas, this was the first mission in Texas. In 1731, the mission transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A friary was built in 1745, and the church was completed in 1756.
Following government policy, Franciscan missionaries sought to make life within mission communities closely resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture. In order to become Spanish citizens and productive inhabitants, Native Americans learned vocational skills. As plows, farm implements, and gear for horses, oxen, and mules fell into disrepair, blacksmithing skills soon became indispensable. Weaving skills were needed to help clothe the inhabitants. As buildings became more elaborate, mission occupants learned masonry and carpentry skills under the direction of craftsmen contracted by the missionaries.
After secularization, these vocational skills proved beneficial to post-colonial growth of San Antonio. The legacy of these Native American artisans is still evident throughout the city of San Antonio today."
Visiting something so historic to the USA and Texas, really, is a very nice experience, especially for lovers of history. I enjoyed the mission very much!
The Espada Mission was far enough uphill from the river that an aquaduct was built to provide irrigation water to the mission
Established 1731, still in use. Much of the missions irrigation system built in the 1740s stands and is still in use, including a small aqueduct over Piedras Creek.