Texas Heritage, Fall 1983 Page: 5
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here against the wanton mutilation
ns by thoughtless relic hunters.
beautiful carvings has been going
d, forbear! forbear even to add your
hed, scribbled and penciled on walls
inevitable disappearance "perhaps within another hundred years time."
But it was William Corner's "San Antonio, A Guide and History"
that in 1890 gave the fullest descriptions of the increasingly alarming rate
i4 of the old Mission structures decline. "The front of the Mission
S4<9 Concepcion must have been very gorgeous with color, for it was
frescoed all over with red and blue quatrefoil crosses of different
pattern and with large yellow and orange squares to simulate great
dressed stones. This frescoing is rapidly disappearing and from but a
little distance the front looks to be merely gray and undecorated
Corner included in his Guidebook Sidney Lanier's historical
sketch "San Antonio de Bexar" which contained an
earlier reference to that same frescoing. In 1872, Lanier
made the Mission tour on horseback and found abandoned
buildings and romantic ruins, but he also
observed that at Mission Concepci6n "The old church,
with its highwalled dome . . . is in a good state of
preservation and traces of the singular many-colored
frescoing on its front are still plainly visible."
Corner found even greater decay at San Jos6,
with its fallen dome and missing north wall of the
church, and at San Juan Capistrano only a few
Indian and Mexican families living among the
ruins. But at Espada, Comer was to find and
record the beginning of the long work of
restoration, renewal and rebirth that was to
bring the Missions of San Antonio back to
life. At Espada, Corner talked with the man
who really began the restoration of the Missions,
Father Francis Bouchu. Born in
France, the newly ordained secular priest
was assigned to the Church of San Fernando.
Sometime after 1858, he wangled
permission to take up residence at
Espada. Only the facade and the rear
wall of the Chapel were still standing.
By the time Corner met and
talked with him, Father
Bouchu and his Indian
and Mexican neighbors
had "built with his
own hands, upon the
ruin of the old Convent
and arcade, a
house. Under his rule
the Mission Chapel
has been almost enrely
front only retaining
of its ancient
.ano. Photograph by Carolyn Peterson. work. "
Insert to Texas Heritage
The Church was to prove the most persistent and determined agent
of restoration of the Mission. It was impelled, not only by an appreciation of
early Church history in Texas and the value of historic preservation, but more
so by the basic desire to once again provide the blessings and comforts of La
Santa Fe for those who still lived among the ruins of the Missions. The first
attempt had pre-dated that of Father Bouchu. Even in the years of total
abandonment, a priest would occasionally ride out from the old town of San
Antonio de Bexar to baptize, to hear confession and distribute communion.
Bishop John M. Odin, who had petitioned the Texas Congress for return of all
Church lands and buildings in 1841, brought Father Alto S. Hoermann from
Pennsylvania to re-open San Jose as a Benedictine monastery from 1859 to
1868. It was the Benedictines who gave the Convento of San Jos6 its red brick
Gothic arches. But after they left, the old Mission was once again the scene of
only occasional activity. Except for Father Bouchu, the Church's effort at
rebirth and restoration was to await a later day.
With the death of Father Bouchu Espada was closed. But in 1909, with
the Claretian Fathers in charge, the Chapel at San Juan re-opened and has
continued in use to this day, as has the Chapel at Espada, restored through the
efforts of Father W.W. Hume, who secured the backing of the Archbishop.
Espada reopened in 1915.
Concepci6n had had an earlier rebirth and restoration when Bishop Odin
gave the use of the Mission and its lands to the Brothers of Mary, just recently
established in San Antonio to found St. Mary's School. From 1855 to 1911,
the Brothers held title, farming the land and restoring the Church for their
But it was the "Queen of the Missions" that was to rouse the greatest
effort of rebirth and restoration. In the small sacristy, Services were still
conducted . . . first by visiting diocesan priests, then after 1872 by the Holy
Cross Fathers who stayed until 1888. The only repairs were to keep the
sacristy intact so Divine Services could continue. On the night of December
25, 1874 the great dome and roof of San Jose crashed to the floor. Gradually,
everything else fell into ruins. The walls were long gone, the vaulted roof of
the granary collapsed. And the beautiful old Convento was roofless and
unused. Marion A. Habig, O.F.M., has justly written that "The complete
restoration of Mission San Jose has been the work of many minds and hearts,
of individuals as well as organizations and societies." In 1917 the Texas
Historic Landmarks Association and the Adina De Zavala Chapter of the
Daughters of the Republic of Texas began the first public efforts at restoration
of the Missions. The immediate target was the restoration of San Jose. Father
William W. Hume, already involved, enlisted the aid of Mrs. H.P. Drought
who in 1918, gave the funds for essential restoration work on the Church (still
roofless) and the Convento.
In 1931 Archbishop Arthur J. Drossaerts called back the Franciscans,
and with the assistance of Fathers Mariano S. Garriga and Alois J. Markovsky,
raised funds for the first major restoration. With WPA funds paying for
the labor, and donations coming in from the newly organized Margil Society
(named after Fr. Antonio Margil, founder of San Jose) the ambitious project
begun in 1931 succeeded, and on Sunday, April 18, 1937 the great Church of
San Jose was rededicated.
There was still much to be done, but much had already been done.
In 1930, the San Antonio Conservation Society bought the granary and the
grounds around it and by 1933, with the aid of a donation from the Texas
Centennial Committee, had restored it. The Conservation ladies had been
among the prime movers for restoration of the Missions and backed up their
words with a personal commitment that included persuading some of their
reluctant husbands to sign the loan papers that initially funded their project.
The Great Depression must be credited as a key factor in all this. The
workmen employed on the granary restoration and on the Mission Church
were paid with relief funds provided by the Federal government. The County
of Bexar not only provided these workmen but joined in the unique agreement
between the land owners (Conservation Society, County, Church and
State) and made possible its designation as a State Park. A key part of that
agreement was that the Archdiocese of San Antonio would hold exclusive title
(continued page 8)
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1983, periodical, Autumn 1983; (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45449/m1/11/: accessed August 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.