Mission Espada

Mission Espada exterior

Mission Espada may be the smallest of the San Antonio area missions, but that only adds to its charm. 

 

The oldest of the Texas Missions, it’s an experience you don’t want to miss. 

 

With most of the buildings over 200 years old, Mission Espada has an “original” feel. As you explore the church and grounds, You will marvel at how historic and well-preserved it is. 

 

Founded in 1690 and re-located to the San Antonio River area in 1731, the mission was started by Spanish Catholics and populated by the Pacaos Indians. Over the years they added various structures to the mission, but most of their effort was put towards clearing fields and creating a gravity-powered irrigation system. 

 

In 1745, they successfully completed an aqueduct, portions of which are still in operation today. 

 

Like the other missions in the area, European diseases such as smallpox and measles, as well as conflicts with local Native American tribes, led to a decrease in population that eventually shut the mission down completely. In 1824 it was fully secularized and began to decline, although it was briefly used during the Texas Revolution. 

Chapel at Mission Espada

If you go see the church today, you can thank Reverend Francis Bouchu for the opportunity. Father Bouchu was a French priest who arrived in 1858 and decided that Mission Espada was worth saving and preserving. Not only did he make meticulous records of everything still standing at the mission, including all visible artwork, but he moved into the mission and started rebuilding the church. 

 

Now, thanks to Father Bouchu, you can see the mission in almost the same condition as it was when it first began, giving you the illusion of stepping back in time.

 

When you visit, be sure to get a good look at the Espada Aqueduct. This aqueduct originally carried water from the San Antonio River to the Mission Espada farmlands, and is the oldest continually operating irrigation system in the United States. Amazingly enough, it is still in operation today, irrigating local crops. 

 

Back in the mission’s heyday, this irrigation system brought water to the Rancho de las Cabras, 23 miles south of the Mission. At one point, the ranch had as many as 1,262 head of cattle and 4,000 sheep. 

 

Mission Espada aqueduct

Wool from the sheep was then brought to the mission, washed, spun, and woven. Wouldn’t that have been amazing to watch?

 

Well, lucky for you, there is still a working loom at Mission Espada. You can view it for yourself in the Contact Station. And if you visit on a Tuesday afternoon, you will even be able to watch a live weaving demonstration!

 

Mission Espada is notable for its distinctive Spanish design features in the bell tower, brick archways, and the doorway of the church. It may be simple, but it’s beautiful and rich in art.

 

To see this historic treasure, head to 10040 Espada Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214. Parking and entrance are free, and you will marvel at how well-preserved it is. 

 

Needless to say, it is well worth the stop.

 

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