Do You Know the Way to San Jose
Trip Start Oct 15, 2006
6Trip End Jan 01, 2007
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San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo began its life along the San Antonio River about six miles South of San Antonio de Valero in 1720. Why two missions so close together? The former was operated by the Franciscan Priory in Queretero and the latter by the Franciscan Friary in Zacatecas (both in present day Mexico). The walled compound, approximately six acres, became known as "The Queen of the Missions". Even today she is the most heavily visited and highly regaled of the four remaining mission communities.
During its heyday the walled town housed about three hundred and fifty citizens in sixty-four two room apartments built into the walls surrounding the courtyard. The converts used the living quarters primarily for sleeping and shelter during inclement weather. They had been use to living and working outside and continued that tradition. Farming, teaching, socializing, and daily activities took place outdoors. Here the natives from small hunter-gatherer bands learned how to become good Spanish citizens and earn their keep. One or two friars and only one soldier taught them various trades and how to defend themselves from their enemies.
The National Park Service with cooperation of the Archdiocese of San Antonio, Los Compadres, the San Antonio Conservation Society , and other like minded groups try to preserve three distinct periods in the life of San Jose: the Spanish Colonial Period of the 1700s, the Benedictine refurbishing of the 1850s and the WPA reconstruction of the 1930s. Each group has left its mark on the Queen. San Jose boasts to be the most completely restored of the mission towns. Eighty percent of the buildings and twenty percent of the church structure had fallen into ruins over the centuries.
As the visitor leaves the parking lot for his/her visit, the first structure he sees is the Visitor Center. Inside he is greeted by the ranger and docent staff and is invited to watch the twenty-three minute award winning movie, Gente de Razon (Men of Reason). The free presentation begins every half hour and depicts the story of the people who came to the missions in the 1700s, what happened to them, and where they are today. This presentation gives a great overview of mission life and enhances the walk through the complex. One hour guided tours, given by a ranger or docent, happen at 10:00, 11:00, 2:00, and 3:00 daily. The Visitor Center also houses a small museum with exhibits depicting mission life and a small bookstore.
Leaving the Visitor Center, you turn left along the walkway and enter the town through the Southeast gate. Notice the large open area, where many of the natives would work and play. Enter the open door to your right into the bastion. Note the rounded roof (first error committed by the WPA). In reality the roof would have been flat and the three pound canon would rest on top. The canon would not be shot from inside, because the squad would be totally deaf after one shooting in the enclosed space, because of the reverberation. Anyway, the Apache or any other tribe would not have attacked a walled town. They were looking for food and perhaps a slave or a woman to take away. They attacked to the labores (fields) or to the ranchos to rustle some cattle or sheep.
Exiting the apartment, continue to your right. a short way ahead is a free standing horno, a bake oven. The chimney on the horno should not be there (mistake number three--not too bad considering all of the reconstructing the WPA did). Like the Northern tribes, the natives lit a fire inside using local wood. After sufficient amount of time, they removed the embers and tested the heat of the oven by throwing some flour into it. If it browned nicely the horno was ready to receive the bread dough. This flour is called cake. Remember Queen Marie Antoinette? When she said, "Let them eat cake," this was the cake she was referring.
Walking all the way down to the convento, on the right is a religious goods store operated by the parish. Outside the gate and walls is the priory and church office. The parish has just erected a large status of Our Lady of Guadeloupe and Juan Diego kneeling in front.
otice the different arches in the two story convento. The convento is where the friars lived and perhaps some VIPs who visited the town. The first row of arches are Romanesque in design, while the second row is Gothic, (round verses pointed). The Gothic ones were erected by the Benedictines in the 1850s. They were a Germanic order and wanted to turn San Jose into a seminary. The Civil War ended their ambition.
After walking through the garden turn right into the refectory, i.e., the dining room. Here the friars ate and welcomed guests to dinner. In Spain at that time was a caste system, which made the one in India seem like a democracy. Spain had twenty-six levels: the royal at the top and the serfs at the bottom. Near the top were the soldiers, many of whom aspired to a noble title. When they came visiting after a long hard day in the saddle, they refreshed themselves, and sat down to dine. After the friar said the appropriate grace before meals, he Suggested that the soldiers go to the pass through into the kitchen and take their meal ala buffet style. The soldiers balked at this and said that the expected to be served. The Franciscan said: "In this town we are all equal. There are no slaves. If you want to eat, you must serve yourselves."
Leaving the refectory, walk along the Convento hallway. Look into the rooms and see the fading frescoes in the cells. These are most probably original frescoes. Note the door on the second floor leading to the church. Most probably the friar preached to the congregation in the nave of the church from this doorway.
Now come to the sacristy doors. These are the original doors and stonework around them. The sacristy was in constant use as a chapel where Mass was said, even after the dome of the church collapsed in the 1860s. Today the Blessed Sacrament resides there and due respect must be given to this holy place. Before entering the church nave, look at the stair leading up to the window on the left side. Also note the two sconces on either side of the chapel: St. Dominic and St. Francis.
Enter the nave of the church. The statues of Mary and Joseph are both from the 1700s. St. Michael the Archangel in the upper doorway is from a later period. Exiting the church at the rear right before you is the most important building the the town: the grannery. Remember the friars promised to feed and protect the natives. The grannery held the abundant foodstuffs grown on the three to five hundred irrigated acres in the labores. This food was rationed out to the citizens a couple times a week. No one starved inside the town.
Now turn around and look at the facade. The natives were illiterate. So the Franciscans taught in stone. At the top is a cross, signifying Jesus Christ. Through out are heads of cherubs, or little angels, the heavenly presence. Pomegranates, a symbol of fertility, appear through out the facade. Below the cross is St. Joseph, holding baby Jesus. On his right is St. Dominic and on his left is St. Francis. Why? Dominic and Francis were contemporaries and were frequently seen together. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers, while Francis founded the missionary Franciscans. Dominic holds a book. Francis holds a cross signifying his stigmata, the five wounds of Christ. He also holds a scull in his arm, knowing that his mortality accompanies him all the way through life. Below Joseph is a circular window, the Rose window, which is common to most European churches. Notice the shells adorning the facade. These are a symbol of the flowing waters of Baptism. Below is the statue of Our Lady of Guadeloupe an important feast in New Spain On either side of her are statues of her parents: Joachim and Anne. Why? My theory is that natives welcome their grandparents in their prayers. The Franciscans, aware of this, added Jesus' grandparents to the facade.
Walk around the right side of the church and look at the fresco design. This was done by the WPA in the 1930s. Imagine how the church would have looked completely covered with the designs. Now go to the stairway leading the the choir loft. This fell in ruins around the turn of the century.
The steps are hand hewed oak. The parishioners were asked to keep the steps in case the church was ever restored. When the WPA asked if any one in San Antonio had the steps leading to the loft, they received every single one of them. An amazing story.
To our right look at the famous Rose window, one of the most photographed objects in San Antonio. There are three possible stories for the window. First, Pedro Huizar, the stone mason, was engaged to a girl in Spain named Rosa. He asked her to come to San Jose and marry him. She boarded the ship, but never arrived. The second one says that the window is named for St Rose of Lima, the first canonized saint of the New World. Finally, the priest used to bless the catachumens kneeling before the window with the Eucharist.
Other things to see within the compound are the interior of the grannery with the diorama of a day in the life of the mission, the exhibits on the restoration of the mission and the oldest grist mill in Texas. The latter will be the subject of the next article.