In the 17th century, Texas, along with most of the southern part of what is now the United States from Florida to California, belonged to the sprawling Spanish Empire. Since France possessed modern-day Louisiana and showed a keen desire to expand her territories at Spain’s expense, the Spanish Crown decided to establish six missions along the San Antonio River to stop the French.

The missions served as forts, schools, villages, farms and ranches. The Franciscan friars converted the native Coahuilans to Catholicism and taught them to behave as Spaniards. The missions also helped maintain Spanish control over the frontier.

Five of those missions thrived and can be visited following the Mission Trail signposts around the city of San Antonio. Four of the churches are still active parish churches. When we visited the Missions, there were weddings at two of them!

Mission San José is the biggest and, in my opinion, most beautiful and better preserved. This is a view of the church, closed to visitors day day because there was a wedding.
A view of one of the gates to Mission San José. Cacti grows everywhere in Texas!
Mission Concepción church, wedding-free that day. The interior has some original frescoes.
Mission Espada, with a modern Franciscan friar, a common sight in the last three centuries
Nit much remains of Mission San Juan except fro the church, which was undergoing repairs when we visited
Not many people know that the famous El Alamo used to be another Franciscan mission!

Photos: Ana O’Reilly

Visit San Antonio Missions National Historical Park for more information

Read more

Photo Essay: Texas Wildflowers

US, Russia: The Flying Balalaika Brothers Bridge Cultural Gaps in Texas

Picture Postcards: an All-Texan Lunch

About the author

Ana Astri-O’Reilly is from Argentina, where she lived until five years ago. She currently lives in Dallas, USA with her British husband, but they move a lot. Previously a translator and English and Spanish teacher, Ana first started writing to share her experiences and adventures with friends and family. She speaks Spanish, English and a smattering of Portuguese.