The second mission that I visited on my day-trip to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was Mission San Juan. This mission is across the river and not far from Mission Espada which I wrote about last week.
The mission was originally founded in 1716 by Franciscans as Mission San Jose de los Nazonis near present day Nacogdoches Texas to serve the Nazoni and Nadaco Indians. It was abandoned three years later due to conflict with the French. There was a failed attempt to reestablish the mission in 1721 and it was eventually relocated to the Austin Texas area in 1730. Finally the mission was relocated to the banks of the San Antonio River in San Antonio in 1731 and renamed Mission San Juan Capistrano in honor of recently canonized St. John of Capistrano and to avoid confusion with another mission nearby named after San Jose.
The mission suffered from Apache attacks in the 1730s resulting in deaths among the resident Indians. The mission also had trouble keeping enough soldiers to defend it. Disease and political issues also reduced Mission San Juan’s population to 66 by 1740, but the population recovered.
An initial small chapel with a straw roof was built. This church no longer remains, but its foundation has been found. The mission also had housing for the Indians, a workshop, granary, and a farm and the outlines of these structures remain.
Below is a map of the mission taken from the park brochure. You can see the location of the first church, though the structure no longer remains.
Eventually a second (present-day) church was built and still stands today. It has been restored and is once again an active church.
Inside the church it is as long and narrow as you might imagine from looking at the outside. Most of the church was gated off, so I popped in, looked around, and took a few photos. The church shown below is what has been restored within the existing structure.
Plans were made for a larger stone church across the plaza, as well as improved housing for the Indians. But the new church was never completed and only the restored remains of the walls are there today. The photo below is taken overlooking the remains of the octagonal sacristy of the unfinished church looking back toward the present day church. There is a sign indicating that people are buried in the area where the church would be and you are not allow to walk there.
By the end of the 18th century the mission was secularized, meaning the land was divided up between the inhabitants and the church made part of the local diocese, and the mission was closed by 1815. After this, the mission began to fall into ruin and eventually even lost its roof in a hurricane.
There had been attempts to restore the mission by priests and preservationists with some small success in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but much restoration was made possible by the government funding during the Great Depression. In the 1960’s priest quarters were rebuilt on the site by the Catholic diocese, and in 1992 the mission also became part of the National Parks Service. The restoration apparently continues as there were part of the mission near the north gate that were blocked off and had scaffolding.
Photographically, I tried to take some photos from interesting vantage points and details. One thing that I found interesting in the missions, was the front façade and bell towers. Like Mission Espada, the church of Mission San Juan was built with an espadaña that could accommodate three bells, though I think it took quite some time to get its third bell as I saw many old photos with only the two lower bells. Looking at the bells it does seem obvious that they weren’t all ordered from the same catalogue.
And I will leave you with the image below taken from inside a building next to the unfinished church. I like the framing offered by the window and I spent so much time with it in Photoshop, I felt like I must post it.
And that was Mission San Juan Capistrano. Thanks for reading.