The influence of local and imported factors on the design and construction of the Spanish missions in San Antonio, Texas



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Texas A&M University


San Antonio, Texas, is home to several eighteenth-century Spanish Franciscan missions, which represent some of the best examples of Spanish colonial mission architecture in the United States and which together comprise the city's historic Chain of Missions. This study traces the history of four of these missions: Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purismima Concepcion de Acuna, Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Founded by Franciscan friars, who traveled from Spain to Mexico and ultimately to Texas to christianize native populations of the Americas, and built by craftsmen transplanted from Mexico, the missions are an amalgam of diverse cultures and decades of evolving architectural styles. This study examines the cultural, religious, and environmental factors that influenced the design and construction of the original mission structures. Specifically, it analyzes the vernacular architecture of eighteenth-century Spain and Mexico, as well as the traditions of local Native American groups of the period, and studies the effect of these cultures and San Antonio's environmental conditions on the resulting vernacular construction of the San Antonio missions. Each of the four missions in this study is examined within the context of three main factors: (a) the unique combination of broad cultural factors?both local and imported-that influenced the architectural forms of the missions; (b) the religious prescriptions of three cultural groups and their effect on the structure of the missions; and (c) the impact of the specific environmental conditions of the San Antonio area. The goal of this study was to identify the multiple forces that contributed to the creation of a vernacular architectural form-Spanish mission architecture-in Texas. The findings suggest that the design and construction of the San Antonio Missions were most strongly influenced by Mexican religious factors, followed by Spanish cultural factors. Environmental conditions of the area were not highly influential.