This is part 2 of our spontaneous, unplanned road trip. Read part 1 here.
This trip graduated to the road trip category the moment we stocked up on sodas, gummy bears, chips and other equally nutritious food. We left Austin before noon and headed to San Antonio. We had no plans except check in at our hotel and grab some lunch. It was another scorching hot day in Texas. Oh joy.
Out of the blue, I remembered reading an article about the Franciscan missions in San Antonio and my inner history buff was doing cartwheels at the thought of visiting them. I suggested we visited only one and be done with it as I was aware that this may not be Sean’s idea of how to spend an afternoon. He was very sweet and obliging and drove me to all five of them.
We started at Mission San José, created in 1720. It is the biggest and best preserved of them all. I absolutely loved it, it’s so beautiful. This and the other missions were founded by the Franciscan order to teach local Indians – the Coahuiltecans- “to live and worship as Spaniards and, ultimately, live independently from the mission.” The Indians were taught to blacksmith, to weave on European looms, to cut stone and to make shoes and cotton clothes.
The compound consisted of a church, the centre of life at the mission, a granary, acequias for water, Indians quarters, the armoury, a mill and the friars’ quarters and offices. Most buildings are still standing and some even show traces of original frescoes. The church is quite big with an ornately carved front. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the inside because there was a wedding in progress as it still functions as parish church. The bride was waiting outside, baking in the sun, which struck me as odd. At my wedding people waited for me! We waited until the doors opened and I caught a glimpse of the sky blue and gold leaf altar.
We followed the signs of the Mission Trail to the next one, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña- or Mission Concepción. All that remains now is the church, the granary and one other building, or rather, a big room. Luckily there wasn’t a wedding so I could go inside. Sean stayed in the car; he was probably “missioned out” by then.
There are still traces of the original frescoes and the church is beautifully restored. Here, as in the rest of the missions, Franciscan friars converted the local Indians to Catholicism and imposed Spanish customs and traditions as well. It was a way of maintaining Spanish control over Texas, a remote corner of the Spanish Empire at the time.
Next came Mission Espada. It’s mostly ruins now except for the small church. And guess what? There was a wedding in progress so I couldn’t see it inside. It was interesting to see a Franciscan friar walk by. It must have been an all too common sight almost three centuries ago.
At Mission San Juan, what little remains was closed off to visitors due to restoration work. At least there wasn’t a wedding.
You may be wondering which is the fifth mission. Remember the Alamo? Yep, that’s the one.
After cooling down at the hotel, we went out for dinner to a great restaurant called A Cenar. It’s right on the River Walk and has a lovely terrace but it was too warm to eat outside. We had margaritas and delicious Mexican food (not Tex-Mex). We strolled along the river for a while after dinner before going back to our hotel.
The next morning we walked around La Villita, an art community, a district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but most shops were closed.
We pushed on back to Dallas. We had one more stop to make: West. The town of West, right outside Waco, was founded by Czech immigrants and that’s where we stopped for lunch. We were lucky to find Nors Sausage and Burger House open. We had a nice lunch but didn’t have enough room for kolaches. Maybe next time.
* Thanks Johanna from RestlessJo for the inspiration for the title