When you think of missions in Texas, the most famous one that probably comes to mind is the Alamo. Yet, there are four additional missions in San Antonio, each of which is uniquely beautiful and historical.
If you are traveling to the city, be sure to include visits to each of the five missions of San Antonio. The Mission San José, formally known as the Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo ("Queen of the Missions") is the largest of the missions in the city. Visiting the site will give you an excellent perspective on Spanish mission architecture, the purpose of the missions, and how life must have changed for the Coahuiltecan Indians converts living under the protection and guidance of the Missionaries.
Today, the Mission San José has been restored to its original design. It is part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. When you visit, be sure to take advantage of the free guided tour, which includes information about how the Indians lived, what they used to create basic items, such as bedding, how they cooked and worked as a close-knit community. You also learn about the trade-offs they made to obtain protection within the walls of the missions from warring Apache tribes and diseases that had been brought to the region by European settlers.
History of the Mission
This mission is named for Saint Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ.
It was founded in 1720 and was built along the San Antonio River, as were the other four missions of San Antonio. The Mission was constructed after the Mission San Antonio de Valero, which is now simply referred to as the Alamo.
Like the other missions in the area, the lands include a protective wall and built-in apartments for the Indian community that lived on site until the end of the century. Of course, a church is the focal point of the Mission. Converts that lived within the walls of the Mission attended prayer several times a day and learned both Spanish and Latin, which was used during services.
Not only is this the largest of the missions in the area, but it was the most well known at the time due to its size, complex social and cultural organization, vast fields and numerous heads of livestock, and its hand-dug canals that lead to a granary which allowed grain to be milled for flour. At its height, 350 Indians lived within the mission walls.
This mission also obtained a reputation as one of the most well-defended missions in the area. Although Apache and Comanche tribes tried on numerous occasions to raid the compound, the Cohuiltecan people that lived in the Mission aptly defended it not only using bow and arrows, but also guns and cannons. You can still see the many small openings in the walls of the Mission from which shots could be fired.
Restoration of the Mission San José and the church took place in the early 20th century through efforts of the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Federal Government. In 1941, the Mission was declared both a State and National Historic Site. San Antonio Missions National Historic Park was created in 1978, including within its boundaries Mission San José, further assuring its protection and preservation.
The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the parish of the Mission San José church also work to maintain the church structure. Surprisingly, the church is comprised of 80% of the original construction even to this day.
Of course, donations are always accepted from the general public to help preserve the Mission for many future generations to enjoy. Many consider this Mission one of the most beautiful examples of Spanish missions in frontier Texas.
Our Visit to the Mission
We visited the Mission San José in August 2013, stopping for two hours on one of the hop-on-hop-off trolley tours available in San Antonio. This time of year, the temperatures were close to 100 degrees F, and humidity was high.
Inside the Visitor Center, the temperature was a comfortable air-conditioned cool. There, we watched the free explanatory film, about 22 minutes long, before joining a tour that was about to begin at the top of the hour.
Our tour guide/docent was very knowledgeable and pleasant. Again, there is no charge for a guided tour. We were comfortably dressed in sleeveless tops and shorts with flip flops. If you are planning on visiting more than one mission per day, you might want to wear sturdier shoes, however!
We particularly enjoyed the fact that we could take photographs—even flash photography—inside the church at the Mission San José. At the end of the guided tour, the guide pointed out a few notable additional sights for us to see. We took an additional 30-45 minutes exploring the grounds of the Mission San José and visited the granary/old mill, as well.
Other than the Alamo, we spent the most time at Mission San José than any other mission in San Antonio during our visit.
The Rose Window at the Church
La Ventana de Rosa, the Rose Window, is located on the south wall of the church sacristy. Unlike most church "Rose Windows," this one is not a round stained window, nor is it at the front of the church.
Legend and its unique baroque architecture formation alike combine to make this Rose Window famous. Its creator sculpted the window in the late 18th century and purportedly named it for his beloved, Rosa. When she did not join him at Mission San José, he swore he would never marry. That pledge lasted a very short time, as Juan Huizar did in fact take a bride and father several children thereafter.
Fast Facts About the Mission
- Like the other four San Antonio missions, this Mission is located near the San Antonio River.
- It is about 5 miles away from the Alamo, also known as Mission San Antonio de Valero.
- The Mission's address is 6701 San José Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78214.
- Parking is free and ample.
- A guided tour, approximately 45 minutes long, is free; tours meet in front of the Visitor's Center on the hour.
- Many tour buses and trolleys include a stop to the Mission San José during their tours of San Antonio.
- There is a 22-minute movie that describes the history of the Mission San José, which is also free, within the Visitor's Center.
- Photographs are allowed within the sanctuary of the church.
- Women and men are not required to wear special clothing or shoes to visit the Mission or the Church.
- You can visit a working mill on the grounds of the Mission.
- Wheelchairs are available for use.
- The Mission San José Visitor's Center includes restrooms and a gift shop.
- Plan on a visit of 90-120 minutes, or more.
- This mission is an active parish church. Visitors are welcome to attend mass on Sundays. All types of traditional church ceremonies take place, as well, including weddings, baptisms, and funerals.
Location of the Mission
© 2013 Stephanie Marshall