Mission San Juan
Mission San Juan is a charming and personable mission in San Antonio. Whether you’re exploring the church itself, walking the lovely grounds and trails, or getting a history and agriculture lesson at the demonstration farm, your visit will be both calming and educational.
Mission San Juan was founded in 1716 by Spanish Catholics. Like the other missions in the area, it was founded specifically to convert Native Americans to Christianity and form a self-sustaining community for them.
Besides the typical mission compound consisting of a church and plaza surrounded by a wall, Mission San Juan also included workshops, a granary, and a convent.
Although the Natives were used to a more hunter-gatherer lifestyle, the mission was determined to teach them to be farmers. Unfortunately, it didn’t always go so well, particularly as the mission was often plagued with European diseases such as smallpox and measles. The mission was also raided by other Native groups in the area. Eventually, many of the mission Indians decided to leave and return to their former lifestyle.
This exodus led to a labor shortage at the mission. While the original chapel, built of brush and mud, had been replaced with a stone church in 1756, they’d planned to build an even larger church. This project was started in 1760, but abandoned because there were not enough workers to complete it.
In its heyday, however, Mission San Juan operated as a self-sustaining community. The Native inhabitants prepared hides and made their own cloth and tools. They grew a variety of fruits, vegetables, and crops, and they also owned a great deal of sheep and cattle. Food was so abundant that they were able to supply food to other missions in San Antonio and sell their surplus, leading to a thriving economy.
However, like the other missions in the area, population decline was ultimately its downfall. The compound was abandoned for years, until 1908 when the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary began reconstruction on the chapel. Later restoration projects unearthed Indian quarters and the unfinished church foundations, and in the 1960s some of the structures on the property were rebuilt.
Today, you can view both the ruins of the second church and the unfinished third church, which was used as a cemetary where some of the original mission residents are buried. You can also view the walls and several other buildings, some still standing, some in ruins.
When you visit, be sure to check out the Yanaguana Trail along the San Antonio River. From the trail, you can view what the riverbank must have looked like 300 years ago, and watch the owls, turtles, and other wildlife as you take a serene, shaded walk.
And don’t forget to visit The Farm at Mission San Juan. The same fertile ground that amply supplied the mission all those years ago is still in use today.
Not only does it demonstrate to visitors what the mission farms would have looked like back in the day, but it also supplies food for the San Antonio food bank.
Located at 9101 Graf Rd, San Antonio, TX 78214, the mission is easy to find and well worth a visit. As you view the grounds, the standing buildings, the ruins, the trails, and the farm, you will be transported to a different era of history.
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