Many people visit the Alamo and never know that there are four additional missions nearby. I read online that each one is uniquely different and decided I would like to see them all.
Many of you may remember that I used to live in California where I guided tour groups. California history is similar to Texas history in that both states were in the boundaries of Nueva España and then Mexico, after being liberated from Spain, and both have Franciscan-established missions.
Inquiring at the San Antonio Visitors Center how to visit the other missions, I was given a map and learned: 1) you can drive or Uber; 2) the bus goes as far as the two closest missions; 3) the Mission Reach trail connects with all of the missions; 4) Mission Espada is the furthest one from downtown San Antonio about 10 miles away; 5) bicycle rental stations with both standard and electric bicycles are located at all of the missions and parks along the trail; 6) “BCycle” bicycle rental app shows the availability of bikes at each station.
The “Mission Reach” Hike & Bike Trail is a 2011 extension of the San Antonio Riverwalk along the San Antonio River connecting all 5 UNESCO World Heritage Missions in San Antonio: The Alamo, Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. Each mission is about 2.5 miles from the next. This is a safe and fun way to visit the missions.
Three East Texas missions had failed due to disease, drought, and shifting relations with France and were moved to the San Antonio River valley in 1731 joining San Antonio de Valero and San Jose. These five missions, a presidio (fort) and the 1731 settlement of the Canary Islanders formed the foundation for the city of San Antonio. Recognizing the missions’ significance, the city has worked to carefully preserve them.
History of the Spanish Missions in Texas
Spain felt threatened by French encroachments from Louisiana, therefore in 1690 it stepped up its colonization northward from New Spain (present-day Mexico) by establishing six missions along the San Antonio River. The missions in modern-day Texas make up the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America. (Hmmm, not California?)
Franciscan missions served both Church and State and were financed by the Crown of Spain. As an arm of the church, the mission was to convert the Indians. As an agent of the state, the mission helped push the empire northward and expand Spanish culture.
The Franciscans took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and pledged to serve as protectors of the Indians. they also helped the Crown as explorers, cartographers, diplomats, scientific observers, and chroniclers.
The Coahuiltecans were willing recruits for the missionaries. In exchange for labor and conversion to Catholicism, Indians received food and refuge in the missions. Although some fled the missions to return to their old life, most accepted Catholicism and actively took part in Spanish society.
It was Spanish policy that missionaries make mission community life like a Spanish village’s life. To develop a solid economy, they taught Mission Indians vocations. Men learned to weave cloth and make shoes. Blacksmiths repaired farm implements. Others learned carpentry, masonry, and stone-cutting for building elaborate buildings. Most men and boys worked in the fields, orchards, gardens or quarries. Women and girls learns to cook, sew, and spin, tend gardens, and make soap, pottery and candles.
The missions of San Antonio were not only self-sufficient, but they supported settlements and the nearby presidio.
By 1824 the San Antonio Missions were secularized, the lands distributed among the inhabitants and the churches were transferred to secular clergy.
Once again, we started at the furthest mission – Mission Espada and worked our way back to town stopping at San Juan de Capistrano, then San José, then Concepción and finally by cruising past San Antonio de Valero known as the Alamo in downtown San Antonio before parking our bikes at a BCycle station near our hotel.
We had a great day cycling along the river. The trail was in excellent condition, nice and wide with plenty of room to pass other walkers and bikers. There were moderate hills, but the battery-assist electric bikes made it a breeze! The temperature was perfect for getting fresh air and exercise while enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Entrance to the missions was free to visit and there were toilet facilities. I highly recommend visiting all the San Antonio missions, but especially doing it while biking The Mission Reach!