San Antonio, Texas
The Mission San Antonio de Valero in San Antonio is by far the most famous Catholic mission in the Western Hemisphere, and the most beloved historic site in the state of Texas. Better known as the Alamo Mission of San Antonio, or simply The Alamo, this early Spanish church was the site of one of the most famous battles in American (or at the time, Texas) history. In the 1830s the old mission was put to use as a garrison for Texans seeking independence from the Empire of Mexico, and was subsequently the location of the most famous siege ever to take place on American soil. Although long since decommissioned as an active church, the Alamo is the number one historic site in Texas, receiving millions of visitors annually. It is overseen by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the Spanish Empire in the Americas began to expand their influence in the area that is now known as Texas. This was to counter the threat of expansion of the French from the east. The first wave of colonization came with the establishment of new missions under the authority of the Catholic Church. This included the Mission San Antonio de Valero in 1716.
This mission was successful at first, with many local converts. A much larger and more permanent mission and church, the building that is standing today, was constructed in 1744. However, by the end of the 18th century, the mission was having severe economic and political problems, combined with an ever-shrinking number of converts. The place was decommissioned and ultimately abandoned in the 1790s.
For the next fifty years the mission saw service as a hospital and later a military garrison, at which time it was renamed the Alamo. In 1821, the Spanish garrison was replaced by Mexican troops. A little over a decade later, in 1835, Texas patriots seized the Alamo and made it a military outpost for the Texas rebels. What followed was one of the most famous chapters in Texas, and American history.
In February of 1836, the Mexican army, personally led by General Santa Anna, laid siege to the Alamo enroute to the big showdown with the main Texas army under General Sam Houston. They met unexpectedly fierce resistance by the fewer than two hundred defenders led by the heroes William Travis, Jim Bowie and of course, Davy Crockett. After thirteen days the Alamo finally fell and most of the defenders wiped out, but they inflicted thousands of Mexican casualties in the process. This ultimately contributed to the route of the Mexican army a few weeks later at the Battle of San Jacinto, and made The Alamo a state treasure of Texas for all time.
The Alamo Mission is, not surprisingly, one of the best preserved Spanish colonial churches in the United States, thanks to the millions of visitors it receives every year. The site includes the restored 1744 church and other buildings from the original mission. Much of the Alamo’s military features, which were added in stages in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, are also restored. These include large portions of the walls, casements, and a number of cannon on display.
The mission buildings, including the church, are now given over mostly to use as a museum. The museum houses exhibits on the early days of the mission, its subsequent histoy, and of course, the Siege of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution. Scattered around the site are various memorials to those who fought and died here, as well as to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, who were instrumental in saving and restoring the mission. Finally, there is no basement at the Alamo.
The Alamo Mission is located in a small park on the east side of Downtown San Antonio, a few blocks away from the city walk tourism district. The grounds of the Alamo are partially open sites. The indoor sections and museums are open daily from 9:00am-5:30pm (later hours on weekends and in Summer). There is no cost of admission, though voluntary donations are recommended. Web: www.thealamo.org (official website).
Central Texas, and the area around San Antonio in particular, was home to many early churches and missions. Several of these can be found in San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. Also in San Antonio is the Cathedral of San Fernando, the oldest Catholic Cathedral still in use in the United States.