Mission Trails Historic Sites

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Mission Concepción (Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna)

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísma Concepción de Acuña (Mission Concepción) is located approximately three miles south of downtown San Antonio. The mission was relocated from East Texas to San Antonio in 1731 with the express purpose of converting local Native Americans to Christianity and assimilating them into Spanish society. The location was selected based on its proximity to the San Antonio River, which allowed for irrigated agriculture, and for its location near the presidio at San Antonio, which offered military protection to the mission occupants (Ivey and Thurber 1983).

Upon the mission’s foundation, approximately 300 Native Americans were settled on its grant. The Native American settlers were primarily responsible for the construction of structures on the property as well as for improvements to the surrounding agricultural lands, including construction of acequias (irrigation ditches) and initiation of cultivated agriculture. Construction of the main church building took around twenty years. It was finished in 1755, and by 1756, the temporary Native American quarters were rebuilt in stone to form a defensive perimeter around the mission grounds.

Upon completion, the mission compound included a plaza, the church, and the convento, which housed the priests’ living quarters as well as the refectory and work space. The Native American living quarters formed the compound’s inner wall, which also contained other necessities such as animal pens, a granary, and a well. In essence, the mission was a self-sufficient, self-contained village surrounded by irrigated agricultural lands (Ivey and Thurber 1983; National Park Service 2002).

The mission faced challenges from its establishment. Many of the converts died of disease, and the facility was regularly threatened with attack by hostile Native American groups unaffiliated with the mission. Mission records from 1762 indicate that church officials had baptized 792 Native Americans and buried 596 in the same year. Twenty years later, there were only 77 Native Americans residing at the mission. Due to the church’s lack of success in achieving their mission and other political factors, the mission was secularized in 1794.

At that time, there were only 38 Native Americans residing there, and the Spanish government divided the mission’s agricultural land between them (Ivey and Thurber 1983).

After secularization, the mission compound was abandoned and quickly fell into a state of disrepair. An 1821 description of the property indicates many of the buildings were in ruins and that the acequia system was no longer functioning. As late as 1854, cattle were housed in the church. By the late nineteenth century, concrete steps to preserve the property had been taken. It was first rededicated as a church in 1861 after restoration by the Brothers of Mary. By 1913, the Catholic Church had initiated a number of restoration projects on the property. Further preservation efforts were under taken in the mid 20th century. In 1978, the mission became part of the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park (National Park Service 2002).

In addition to the aboveground structures, the mission is also significant archeologically. Archeological investigations on the property have uncovered evidence of the original convento as well as the original adobe church from circa 1745 and the location of the former Indian quarters. There is also archeological evidence of an earlier mission-related occupation in the area south of the mission walls. Archival evidence suggests this occupation site could represent the original location of Mission San José or of the elusive and short-lived Mission San Francisco Xavier de Najera (National Park Service 2002).

There are several additional websites where visitors can learn more about the history of the mission complex, including the National Park Service website and the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online. The Library of Congress also maintains a digital collection of historical photographs, drawings, and other materials that provide information regarding the history and architectural significance of the mission complex.

Sources

  • Ivey, James E.

    2006 - Of Various Magnificence The Architectural History of the Missions of San Antonio, Texas in the Colonial Period and the Nineteenth Century. National Park Service, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

  • Ivey, James E. and Marlys Bush Thurber (National Park Service, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park)

    1983 - National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination form for Federal Properties, “San Antonio National Historical Park,” Copy on file at the Texas Historical Commission, Austin, Texas.

  • United States National Park Service

    2002 - Cultural Landscapes Inventory, Mission Concepción, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, copy on file at the Texas Historical Commission, Austin, Texas.
Location ID48
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