Houses of Worship in Nineteenth-Century Texas
WILLARD B. ROBINSON*
ARCHITECTURE, IT IS WELL KNOWN, REFLECTS SOMETHING OF THE
values and customs of societies. The external forms, attention
given to ornamentation, relation of spaces, and spatial settings of
buildings suggest not only the importance of the structures, but also
the nature of the activities that take place within. They also reveal, in
some measure, the ethos of the creators. In Texas churches and chap-
els, the characteristics of the times and the values of the builders are
The architecture of ecclesiastical structures is an extensive subject.
Although reference will be made to Spanish and Mexican work, this
study focuses primarily upon the middle and latter parts of the nine-
teenth century. It also emphasizes urban churches, albeit several rural
churches and urban synagogues are included to provide perspective.
Church and chapel building, of course, was an integral aspect of
the earliest Hispanic struggles to colonize those frontiers of northern
New Spain now in or near Texas. During this period, the Roman
Catholic church provided a means for civilizing and controlling the
frontier.? The mission system, established for the purpose of Chris-
tianizing the natives and making them loyal Spanish subjects, pro-
duced a number of fine churches, all in styles reminiscent of Mexico
After Mexico won independence, Catholicism continued to be the
national religion. Adoption of this faith was one of the requirements
imposed upon immigrants, in an attempt to develop Mexican loyal-
ties. Be that as it may, it appears that church building languished dur-
ing the Mexican period, although the population increased. While
laws authorized the collection of property taxes to finance the con-
struction of churches in the new towns, little new ecclesiastical work
of pretension resulted.2 In areas previously settled, some mission as
'Willard B. Robinson is professor of architecture at Texas Tech University.
10die B. Faulk, A Successful Failure (Austin, 1965), 93-94; Walter Prescott Webb, H.
Bailey Carroll, and Eldon Stephen Branda (eds.), The Handbook of Texas (3 vols.; Aus-
tin, 1952, 1976), II, 215-216.
2David M. Vigness, The Revolutionary Decades (Austin, 1965), 44; Decree No. 16 (Colo-
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 85, July 1981 - April, 1982. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101208/. Accessed May 3, 2015.