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Texas Independence Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Missions


Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio
Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio

A BELL'S NOT A BELL 'TILL YOU RING IT

When you think of missions in Texas you might imagine benevolent brothers in brown robes ringing bells, or spending hours on end in silent prayer then ministering to the needy. No doubt plenty of that went on, but everyday reality was strenuous, challenging, and dangerous over the course of the mission-building period in what would one day become Texas. And Spanish goals included political and economic expansion in competition with other European nations such as France. Missions were constructed all across the region between 1682 and 1793, ultimately a total of 26, to carry out the social and religious programs of the Spanish. Often military protection and enforcement were provided to the missions by the Spanish state with construction of nearby presidios (forts).

While the mission system was promulgated by pope-approved Spanish colonialists, its duties were actually carried out by members of the Franciscan order. Spain provided the bells, in other words, and the brothers did all the ringing. Campanology, however, wasn't the Franciscans' only directive. The mission system was devised to assimilate indigenous populations into the Spanish colonial empire through the Catholic religion, thus the brothers had a lot more duties to perform (although the results weren't always as anticipated). Their efforts, however, are best illustrated in the stunning remnants of local construction skills writ large. The surviving missions-massive, fortress-like works of stone, timber, and adobe-are scattered across Texas in various states of ruin and restoration and most are open to the public for tours. Light a candle, say a prayer, but we should probably leave the bell ringing to the experts.

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Read more about Spanish missions in the Handbook of Texas Online.