Mission San Francisco de La Espada
Mission San Francisco de la Espada was moved to the San Antonio River Valley from East Texas in 1731 along with Mission San Juan and Mission Concepción. Originally founded as Mission San Francisco de los Tejas near Augusta, Texas, like the other East Texas missions it was founded to convert the local indigenous tribes to Christianity and to protect the Spanish frontier from French incursions. Today it represents the most complete mission complex of all of the San Antonio Missions. The Espada Acequia has run continuously since at least 1745 when Fray Ortiz described the Espada Acequia and successful farm fields. The Espada Dam is located 2.1 miles (3.4 km) north of the mission and diverts water from the San Antonio River into the gravity driven acequia which flows parallel to the river until it crosses over Six Mile (Piedras) Creek on the Espada Aqueduct. The Aqueduct, a Civil Engineering Landmark, lifts the acequia over the much stronger creek utilizing natural rock in the creek to help create a bulwark that directs water into both of the aqueducts arches to prevent the stronger creek from destroying the aqueduct itself. The acequia passes through the Espada farmlands that retain the pattern of their original laterals and returns to the San Antonio River south of the mission compound itself.
In addition to the acequia and farmlands, 25 miles south of the mission compound lies one hundred acres of the original Espada ranchlands including the ruins of the stone compound for the mission ranch, Rancho de las Cabras. This ranch was unique because due to its distance from Mission Espada, a stone compound was constructed to house the vaqueros and their families as well as perhaps serve as a community gathering place for those private ranches along the San Antonio River that became increasingly prevalent in the late 18th century.
Ortiz states that by 1745 Mission Espada had 52 families and 214 individuals from diverse nations or clans. There was a two story convento with missionary quarters on the second floor and workrooms on the first floor. The sacristy of the main church was completed in 1745 and served as the church for many years as the larger structure was incomplete. By the 1760s, the walled compound with indigenous quarters were complete.
The compound was expanded in the 1770s, and includes an expansion of the walled compound to the north and east, the construction of granary along the south wall, while an earlier granary was converted to a church. The current church was originally a sacristy for a larger church that was never
constructed. This sacristy was modified by Antonio Salazar and an espadaña similar to one added at Mission San Juan, was added at the same time period (ca. 1790) thus converting the structure into the church we see today. There is a similar expansion of the compound at Rancho de las Cabras to include four rooms and a chapel, perhaps in recognition of the ranchos prominence in the growing secular ranching community of the San Antonio River valley.
This late 18th century expansion appears to reflect the increased role of the mission as both a place to teach skills to indigenous people to become Spanish citizens but also increasingly the role of community center for the people both indigenous and other Spanish citizens of various identities to come together for the common goals of agriculture and crafts skills necessary to maintain a frontier settlement.
Preservation of Mission Espada’s heritage began in the later 19th century when diocesan priest Father Francis Bouchu repaired much of the existing church adding the church’s transepts thus converting the once temporary chapel/sacristy into its current cruciform layout. The bastion structure in the southeast side of the compound was modified during this period of time and became a school house for both the Espada and San Juan communities in the later 19th through the mid 20th centuries.
Today Mission San Francisco de la Espada remains a very active parish. The convento was rehabilitated by the archdiocese in modern times and now serves as workshops and temporary quarters for the Franciscan priests and brothers who returned in the 1930s to still serve their local community as they originally had when the mission was founded.
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