A Shining Example
Cream-colored limestone walls gleam in the afternoon sun at San José, but remnants of paintings at Mission Concepción show some of the vivid colors that once adorned the churches. "Concepción is the best preserved and least altered of the missions," says Rosalind. Next year marks the 250th anniversary of its dedication.
Pews are decorated with pink ribbons and flowers for a wedding yet to come, but on this late afternoon, it's a place of timeless tranquillity. I linger to watch candles flicker on soft walls in the fading light of a church built before America was a nation.
Outposts on the Trail
Early on Sunday morning, I drive out to see Mission San Juan and Mission Espada. At the two rural sites, I get a sense of how remote they once were. In 1836, Jim Bowie and James Fannin took refuge here not long before the fight at The Alamo was lost.
Under missionary supervision, the Coahuiltecans grew crops in rich fields along the river. They built dams and waterways called acequias for irrigation. I stop at Espada Aqueduct to watch water splash through a stone trough. Constructed in 1745, it is the oldest Spanish-built aqueduct still in operation in the United States.
When I slip inside the church at Espada this morning, it's standing room only. About 90 parishioners sit listening to a priest recite the Mass in Spanish. Little girls with red bows in their hair sit beside their mothers. Young men stand politely at the back.
The words are as strange to me as they were to the Coahuiltecans. But I understand the message. In the busy rush of the holiday season, I'm thankful for the trail that led me here. For more information: Contact Park Headquarters at San Antonio Mission National Historical Park, 2202 Roosevelt Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78210-4919; (210) 534-8833 or www.nps.gov/saan.