San Antonio’s Spanish Missions and the Persistence of Memory, 1718-2015
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This dissertation examines the five extant missions in San Antonio, Texas over the course of nearly three hundred years. While the time period may seem overly ambitious, the geographic territory is highly concentrated, covering just a few miles. San Antonio holds the largest concentration of colonial Spanish architecture in the United States. In July, 2015, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) granted World Heritage Status to the missions. This distinguished designation includes Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción, Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada. Because detailed information on the design and construction of the missions has yet to be found, speculation and romantic myths have grown up around the missions. These romantic myths were the basis for Anglo collective memories, particularly after the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. This dissertation examines the origins of the missions as the sources of some of these myths and memories. Advances in both print capitalism and transportation brought San Antonio’s missions to the attention of the traveling public. From the late nineteenth century into the present day these fantasies have been used to market San Antonio to tourists as a romantic and exotic destination. Additionally, other groups besides Anglos have their own collective memories related to the missions. For the local Tejano, Mexican-American, and Native American populations, the missions have served as sacred space, homes, and communities for three hundred years. Although the memories of ethnic minorities have been muted for many years, the Anglo veneer in San Antonio is not deep. Scratching the surface quickly reveals a deeper, more complex heritage. Collective memories are often divorced from historical reality, and the myths at the missions exemplify this. Conversely, the myths and memories of the missions also brought national interest and much-needed repairs and restorations, keeping this Spanish legacy relevant for future generations.
Kitchens, Joel Daniel (2016). San Antonio’s Spanish Missions and the Persistence of Memory, 1718-2015. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from