On this day 259 years ago in 1755, San Antonio’s beautiful Mission Concepcion was dedicated–though at the time it was not “in” San Antonio. It was one of a chain of 5 missions reaching out to the native Americans who lived along the San Antonio River, its two soaring bell towers a landmark and its 45-in-thick walls providing safety and a cool respite. The solidity and beauty of the building were meant to be a reflection of the religious worship it housed.
The missionary effort, however, had a difficult start. A mission of the same name was originally chartered in 1716 as an outreach to the Hainai tribe of East Texas, but famine, epidemics among the Caddo, and incursions by the French forced the Spanish monks to retreat. They tried twice more (in 1721 and 1730) to establish the mission before finally settling on its present location. When Mexico won independence from Spain in 1821, the Spanish charter for the mission was revoked, and the now-secular church property was sold at auction.In 1835 at the Battle of Concepcion, James Bowie and his men defeated General Martin Perfecto de Cos’ Mexican forces on the mission grounds, and within the year a new flag flew over the mission. In 1841 the Republic of Texas restored title to the building and land to the Catholic Church, but the building continued to be used as a barn. After annexation to the US in 1845 (another flag), the US Army used the old church as a supply depot. Today the structure is once again an active church and is protected as part of the San Antonio National Historical Park. Mass is celebrated within its walls each Sunday, and some historians consider Mission Concepcion to be the oldest unrestored house of worship in the United States.