Mission San Juan Capistrano
The Mission San Juan Capistrano is one of five missions established near San Antonio, Texas by the Catholic religious orders of Spain spreading Christianity among the local families in the 1700’s. Today, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park includes the historic remains of the Mission San Juan Capistrano.
The Mission San Jose de los Nazonis was founded in east Texas in 1716, but abandoned in 1719 due to French pressure. It was re-established a few years later and then moved to its present Texas location in March 1731. With tragic beginnings, this mission has endured many hardships. When the mission was established near the San Antonio River, it was renamed to avoid confusion with the nearby Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo. The mission’s new name was in honor of the Saint John of Capistrano.
Indian Outreach Missions
In 1745, records indicate that there were 41 Indian families housed on the grounds, which were 163 residents. The mission chapel at the time was built with brush covered in a mud-based plaster and a straw roof. The plaza included the customary Indian quarters, similar to a 2-room apartment with a living area and a sleeping area. This mission also had a stone granary and work areas. By the mid-1700’s the mission was prosperous and added a wood-roofed chapel made of stone and much more durable than the previous structure. The chapel was adorned with an open belfry. This belfry has space for three bells, representing a trinity formation.
In the late 1700’s the mission population diminished significantly. By 1789, there were only 58 Indians at the San Juan mission. A few years later, the mission became a subsidiary of Mission San Francisco de la Espada and closed in 1825. The land was auctioned and the chapel was turned over to the San Fernando Church in San Antonio.
In 1902, Adina De Zavala obtained a five-year lease on the chapel and began efforts towards restoration on behalf of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. In 1934, a group of federally funded workers repaired the mission site and re-roofed the chapel. Years later, a renewed interest in preservation led to reconstruction of the priests’ quarters in advance of the HemisFair ’68, which was held in San Antonio and generated tourist traffic to the mission locations.
Today, Mission San Juan Capistrano holds weekly church services in the chapel. Visitors can walk the grounds and learn about the history of the area and the construction of the missions that served the local Indian population. I visited these missions on a custom tour, which was a solid foundation into understanding San Antonio’s history and culture. Each mission building offered a unique element, but the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s beautiful bell tower captured my heart.