Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986

These decorated vigas, put in place at various
times in Socorro, Texas, mission of La Purisima,
are the work of decendants of Pueblos who fled
northern New Mexico following the Pueblo
uprising in 1680. The date shown indicates a
replacement by a cottonwood beam to fill in for
another-probably of pine from New Mexicothat
may have been hewn as long ago as 1740.
Restoration work is currently going on
at Ysleta-Texas' oldest mission and a
still-active parish church. Well-meaning
repair efforts, which altered the natural
interior of the building, are currently undergoing
correction: Mission Heritage
Secretary Harry Clark, working with
Father Francis J. Smith, diocese vicar
general, has encouraged Bishop Pena to
create a historic structures review committee.
The El Paso County Historical
Commission, chaired by Clark, has been
designated by the bishop to approve and
oversee any future restoration of historical
diocesan structures, a procedure designed
to reduce the possibility of irreparable
damage done by well-meaning
church governing bodies.
The tower at Ysleta had serious flaws
around its cupola, and structural faults
needed immediate attention. Windows,
protective trim on the wall tops-virtually
all parts of the adobe structureneed
corrective repairs. Father Ernest J.
Burrus, S. J., who grew up in the Ysleta
church but now serves Rome as a historian
and researcher, is working with local
restoration groups to confirm the state of
the building after the disastrous fire of
1907 that occurred there. Planners intend
to restore the building not to a colo22

nial past but to the state after its restoration
from the fire. The ceiling, for
example, will not be of the viga and latilla
pattern to be found at Socorro, but
pressed tin-likely produced by the firm
that made the ceiling materials originally
back in 1908. The parish currently has
exterior restoration underway using labor
of Ysleta parishioners and under the guidance
of Father Ezequiel Morales and architect
Pat Rand. Materials have been
donated by Hanley Paints, an El Paso
firm.

Wainscoting and decorations within the Ysleta
Mission are being restored as a part of the El Paso
Mission Trail Program.

The settlement of San Elizario has not
been forgotten in the process. It contains
a considerable number of the more than
500 structures of historical significance,
including the San Elizario church. The
church is not, technically speaking, a
mission but was originally a presidio
chapel, established about 1789 to serve
Spanish soldiers stationed there to protect
Valley settlers from roaming bands
of Indians. During Mexico's rebellion
against Spain the soldiers were withdrawn,
but settlers who had worshiped
with them continued to use the church.
A living parish church today, it contains
on its grounds portions of the old presidio.
Nearby, historical markers erected
by the State of Texas and by citizens
under the leadership of Dr. W. J. Timmons
(named Mr. History by the State
Historical Association) memorialize the
historic past. Near San Elizario the Rodriguez-Chamuscado
Expedition passed in
1581; Don Juan de Ofiate and his followers
took possession of the Southwest
for Spain in the Toma of 1598 here
and celebrated the first Thanksgiving service
in the continental United States on
April 30, 1598.
The present building is not that old, of
course, dating back to only about 1877,
and a fire in the 1930s required the replacement
of the original ceiling with
pressed tin, as at Ysleta, but the church's
value to preservationists is no less real.
Here also there have been misguided attempts
at repairs-epoxy fillers to patch
adobe walls, for example, which work

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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 04, Number 03, Winter 1986. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45440/. Accessed August 22, 2014.