Last summer I visited destinations along the East Coast/EST and did a series inspired by the idea of the “Great American Road Trip”. This year the theme is in honor of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday, and I hope it inspires you to go out and check out some of the awesome cultural heritage places near you! Need some ideas? There’s the hashtag #FindYourPark and #EncuentraTuParque that show some of the wonders the USA has to offer.
This week’s park was my first time in this area of America and I’m glad I got to see it!
Spanish Colonial history in the USA is not something I’ve explored often, being from the Northeast, and I was very murky of the region’s history of settlement. It hit me that my Texas born cousins were probably learning more about that while my NJ upbringing meant visiting a lot of places where George Washington *probably* slept.
Tucked away south of downtown San Antonio and part of the National Park Service, the Mission of San Jose is one of four Spanish colonial missions that are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Missions were a Catholic system designed by Spain to colonize and protect their land in New Spain from other settlers, and the walled communities focused on converting Natives to Catholicism in order to build up a population on the frontier. Built in 1720, the Mission of San Jose was the largest and most active and once had up to 350 Native Americans living on its grounds.
The “Queen of the Missions”, San Jose’s sheer size and beauty made it notable among New Spain settlements, and picking out interesting architecture techniques is a fun game of “hidden picture”. It’s most famous for the Rose Window “considered to be one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in North America“, which has a dramatic legend surrounding its naming and sculptor.
Today it’s a quiet reminder of what once was, and my visit felt very tranquil. It was a blazing hot day and I couldn’t imagine actually living in these elements, but the rooms inside the walls where Native families lived were surprisingly cool. The mission’s church is still an active parish with regular services open to the public.There is also a display area with a number of interesting artifacts, and some super knowledgeable park employees eager to share info. I thought a lot about the stories being told and the perspectives that frame them. While the focus may be on the goals of the Spanish and its role in US History, I was inspired to do some digging about Native American stories and what kinds of people were present before Spain decided to “clam” the land.
If only I had more time to explore the rest of San Antonio! I definitely look forward to going back, but until then…onto the next spot!