Monday, December 21, 2015

Colonial Spain and the First Thanksgiving

 Colonial Spain had a vast influence in North America which is obvious in places like Florida, New Mexico, Texas and California, but it also had an impact in places where you would least suspect it.  One such instance is the United State'sThanksgiving Day, which might never have happened had it not been for a twist of fate involving Spain.

The First Thanksgiving

Every school-child in the United States knows the story of the First Thanksgiving, the harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims with their Indian neighbors. This feast would never have taken place, nor would the Pilgrims have survived in the new Plymouth colony had it not been for Tisquantum, more commonly known as Squanto,  a Patuxet living in what is present-day Plymouth MA.

Tisquantum (Squanto) as imagined by artist

Around 1614 Tisquantum along with 23 others had been abducted by an English profiteer named Thomas Hunt and transported overseas to Malaga, Spain where they were sold to Franciscan friars. Indians were no novelty to the Franciscans of Spain because their order had been working in Mexico since 1524. They accompanied the conquistadors as the "spiritual arm" of the conquest; their job was to convert the newly-discovered natives to Christianity.  They were also humanitarians who fought for the Indians' recognition as full human beings and protected them against the abuses of the Spanish.

Present-day Franciscan Friars in Antigua Guatemala

When the Malaga Franciscans learned that  Tisquantum and his fellow abductees were from American, they instructed them in Christianity and then sent them on their way. The friars were said to have been very irritated by the attempt of Thomas Hunt to make money from their enslavement.   Tisquantum made his way from Malaga to England where he worked for  one John Slaney and learned English.

 John Slaney was the treasurer of the Newfoundland Company and he sent Tisquantum to Newfoundland, to work as a translator with Captain John Mason, governor of the Newfoundland Colony. In 1619 Tisquantum was taken to New England to serve as a translator in an effort to make peace with and reestablish trade with the Indians there, who were his people. However when he arrived in his home territory, they learned that all of his people (the Patuxets), had been killed by a plague (likely small pox) caused by disease brought by the Europeans.

But, as it turned out, there was also a bright side to Tisquantum's 1619 return home.  It was just in time for the Mayflower Pilgrims, who pulled into Provincetown Harbor in November 1620.  The pivotal event occurred on March 22, 1619 when the Pilgrims met Tisquantum, the English-speaking Indian who would be their guide and mentor in this new world. Through him, the  Pilgrims were able to negotiate a peace treaty with the Indians of the area and  establish trading relations, as well as learning methods for cultivating the land. In early autumn of 1621 the 53 surviving Pilgrims, along with their Indian guests, celebrated their successful harvest in the feast that has come to be known as the First Thanksgiving.

The truth is, without the long chain of events involving the earlier Franciscan experience in Mexico and Tisquantum's lucky encounter with the men of this order in Spain, the history of our nation might have been very different.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

Dia de los Muertos in Oaxaca: Rehearsing for Death

Scene from Dance Performance, Oaxaca, MX 

Scene from Dance Performance, Oaxaca, MX

Human beings instinctively fear death.  Yet in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico during the days of Dia de los Muertos, death is central.  Death-themed items such as skeletons, skulls made of sugar, flowers to decorate graves and create altars to the dead, and much more are sold in all Mexican markets. But, the importance of Dia de los Muertos goes way beyond these visual symbols and the events that are associated with them. With all the extravagant visual beauty of Dia de los Muertos it is easy to overlook psychological dimension; this will be done towards the end of this post.

Dia de los Muertos has roots both in the Catholic Church and in the prehispanic indigenous cultures of the region. At its heart is the idea that at this time of year, usually October 31-November 2,  the "veil" between the living and the dead becomes thin and the dead return to visit.  For a fuller explanation of Dia de los Muertos  please refer to my blog posts: 

 Dia de los Muertos celebrates the relationship between the living and the dead with colorful death-themed paraphernalia sold in markets throughout Mexico in the weeks preceding the holiday; death is on view everywhere.

Market, Oaxaca MX

The dead are welcomed back, included and special food is prepared for them and left on  altars made in their honor and on graves.

Santa Cruz, Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, MX

Cemetery, Tlalixtac de Cabrera, Oaxaca

Altar in church, Santa Cruz, Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca, MX

Graves and graveyards are specially decorated for the event in ways that range from the simple to the dramatic.  The grave below is in Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca and it shows the typical flowers used for Dia de los Muertos- marigolds and cockscomb as well as the candles that are used to illuminate the graves at night.

Cemetery in Santa Cruz, Xoxocotlan Oaxaca MX

In some cemeteries, grave decorations are much more elaborate and done by professional artists who specialize in this kind of work, as in this grave from San Felipe del Agua, Oaxaca. This grave is of a man who had been an organist/pianist of note and his family had paid to have this complex floral tribute created.

Cemetery in San Felipe del Agua, Oaxaca MX

The cemeteries are full of mourners who express their grief in various ways. Some people sit in silence and others are more boisterous, creating a party-like atmosphere in the cemeteries. Many of the cemeteries in Oaxaca have live bands playing on stages.

Cemetery in Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca MX

There is a subtle psychological dimension to Dia de los Muertos that is easy to overlook. True, it is a holiday for honoring, remembering and connecting with the beloved dead, but, in a way, it is also a holiday that prepares the living for death.  During Dia de los Muertos, and particularly in Oaxaca, you see people in all kinds of places with skeleton-painted faces. 

Singers leading Procession of Virgin of Santo Domingo, Oaxaca, MX

Dia de los Muertos revelers, Oaxaca, MX

Dia de los Muertos revelers, Oaxaca, MX

The people in these photos were participating in one of Oaxaca's famous night-long celebrations that happen throughout the city from October 31-November 2.   It is easy to dismiss the painted faces as "just" a costume, but this is missing their deeper significance, one which most Dia de los Muertos revelers are unaware. Having a face painted like a skeleton is a way of connecting with the idea of being dead oneself.  Looking in the mirror and seeing a skeleton looking back has some psychological impact whether or not  the participant is aware of it.

Cemetery in Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca

Some mourners in graveyards have skeleton-painted faces in the spirit of the celebration but also in a kind of solidarity with the dead. It is a poignant way of recognizing and sharing kinship with those no longer living.

Cemetery in Tlalixtac de Cabrera Oaxaca MX

Cemetery in Xoxocotlan, Oaxaca MX

Cemetery in Santa Maria Atzompa, Oaxaca MX

Each year in Oaxaca, during the time of Dia de los Muertos, symbols of death are everywhere.  Although a lot of the holiday's events are entertaining, there is something much more profound to all of it.   During Dia de los Muertos everyone is face to face with the most centrally-feared event in human life, death.  Having this repeated opportunity to interface with death in such an open and positive way does impact participants and their outlook on death.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Video of rarely filmed celebration of Dia de los Muertos in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, MX

Grave decorated for Dia de los Muertos, Romerillo, Chiapas, MX

This video provides a rare look at the unique celebration of Dia de los Muertos in the Mayan community of San Juan Chamula, Chiapas.  

Coahuiltecan Indian Blessing of Dia de los Muertos Altars, Mission San Jose, San Antonio TX

Franciscan Friar and Coahuiltecan Indians at San Jose Mission, San Antonio
October 17, 2015 was the Inscription Ceremony of the San Antonio Missions as a Unesco World Heritage Site; this photo was taken during the celebration.  The Coahuiltecan Indians above are descendants of the inhabitants of the four Franciscan Missions that were established in San Antonio during colonial times.  The Franciscan friar shown above is the spiritual descendant of the Friars who built these missions.

In one of Mission San Jose's  buildings, the Coahuiltecans had built Mexican-style Dia de los Muertos Altars to commemorate their ancestors and performed the blessing rites of their people over these altars.  These short videos demonstrate the melding of Hispanic and indigenous elements that occurred throughout the Spanish colonies, as the two worlds struggled to accommodate each other.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Moradas of New Mexico

  Morada, Taos County, NM

Moradas are a uniquely New Mexican contribution to the religious landscape and architecture of late and post- colonial Mexico. Their origin lay in the necessities of life on the frontier of the colonial Spanish world as New Mexico was in those times.  Although in the New Mexico territory there had Initially been a relatively large number of priests, by  the 18th century, as the population of New Mexico became more spread out, the mission system disintegrated. The missions were understaffed and some pueblos were visited only once a year by a priest.

In the latter part of the 18th century a group of lay religious societies grew up to fill the void left by the absence of clergy and church services.  The most significant of these was known as the Penitentes, a group of devout laymen devoted to the Passion of Christ and to helping their communities.  The Penitentes filled the void left by the absence of clergy and kept the Catholic faith alive for the people.

The Penitentes did not try to perform the sacramental acts of the Church and developed their own unique rites and rituals; they tended to be at odds with the institutional Church.  They were secretive and practiced penitential activities such as self-flagellation as can be seen in the photo below.   In 1927, the Penitentes were accepted into full union with the Church. 

Historical Photo of Penitente Holy Week Ritual

The Penitentes created a network of moradas, a kind of meeting-house that was open only to members, which provided a religious structure for the community in the absence of the formal church.  The word morada means dwelling or abode, with the implication of being a humble structure and all of New Mexico's moradas are this. It is not possible for visitors to enter a morada, so descriptions of their interiors must rely on the few reports that exist.  Their interiors are very simple with few interior furnishings or decoration.

Both of the moradas depicted below are found on the Taos High Road, along which are located many communities that remain close to their Spanish roots.   Spanish language and culture prevail there as reflected in the names of these communities: Cordova, Truchas, Las Trampas. The morada in Truchas is a free-standing building along the highway.  Apart from the crucifix above the door, there is nothing to indicate that it is a house of worship. All moradas are very simple adobe or stone structures.

Morada, Truchas, NM

Morada entrance, Truchas, NM

The morada in Las Trampas is located at the side of the church, within its outer walls.

Morada, Las Trampas, NM

Morada, Las Trampas,NM

Although the famous Sanctuary of Chimayó in New Mexico, sometimes called the "Lourdes of America" because of its healing dirt is not a morada,  its roots lie in the Penitentes. It was originally built (1813-16) as a private chapel by Bernardo Abeyta,  a leader of the Penitentes.  

Chimayó Sanctuary, Chimayó, NM

Penitente Statue of Christ, Chimayó, NM
This statue of Christ with its very large hands is located at the back of the main sanctuary of Chimayó and is characteristic of the representations of Christ favored by the Penitentes

Thursday, September 24, 2015

San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe: Oldest Church Site in the United States

San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe, NM

This simple adobe structure contains a complex, and at times tragic, history. Rebuilt three times in its 418 year history, Santa Fe's San Miguel Mission can legitimately claim to be the oldest church site in the United States, dating back to 1598 long before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.  In fact, San Miguel's roots lie in pre-recorded history as it was built over an old kiva that archaeologist have dated to 1250 AD. San Miguel still functions as a church with a Mass on Sundays.

First built  in 1598 as a tiny hermita by the central Mexican Tlaxcalan Indians who accompanied  Don Juan Oñate as workers on his settlement of the New Mexican territory, it was rebuilt by the Franciscan Friars, who were a part of the Spanish settlement,  into a church in 1610. During the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, which drove the Spanish out of the area, the church was burned.  Tragically, the Tlaxcalans had gone into the church for refuge and were burned to death when the attacking Pueblos shot flaming arrows into the church, setting it on fire and killing all 80 who had sought shelter within.

The Spanish returned to Santa Fe twelve years later and in 1710 San Miguel Mission was restored and used as a military chapel but fell into disuse when a new military chapel which eventually was the site for today's St. Francis Cathedral was built on the town's plaza.

In 1798 the building was restored by the Mayor of Santa Fe and the altar screen that exists to this day was installed.

Altar Screen, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

Sometime around 1830 a triple-tiered bell-tower was added to the church and in 1872 during a severe storm that was followed by a rare 4.5 earthquake, the bell-tower toppled.  The bell which was made in Spain in 1356 survived the fall and is displayed in the church where it can be rung by visitors.     

San Jose Bell, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM
San Miguel Mission was at the point of being demolished due to lack of funds in the De La Salle Christian Brothers who owned the building.  Word of the imminent demolition got out and the community came to the rescue to save this historic landmark.

Apart from its historical significance, San Miguel Mission is a virtual museum of Spanish Colonial religious art.  To return to the altar screen or reredos, it is one of the oldest in New Mexico and was created by artists of historical significance.

Altarpiece, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

The altarpiece, itself, is judged to be the work of the Laguna Santero who was active in New Mexico between 1796 and 1808. ; the twisted "Solomonic" side columns are characteristic of his work.  The top painting of St. Michael the Archangel (San Miguel), seen below, is the work of Bernardo Miera y Pacheco (1713-1785) whom some consider the first santero.  The oval paintings on the altar screen date from the early 18th century and going counter-clockwise from top left are:  St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assis,  St. Colette of  France  and St. Louis IX, King of France.

San Miguel (top center), by Bernardo Miera y Pachecho

The statue of San Miguel in the middle of the altar was carved in Mexico and brought to Santa Fe by the Franciscan Friars.

Statue of St. Michael the Archangel, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

The very earliest form of religious art in New Mexico were  animal hides paintings used by the Franciscan friars in the evangelization of the Pueblo peoples.  These paintings are fairly rare to day because the fragile hides did not survive the years, but San Miguel has two beautiful specimens.  The Passion of Christ is painted on buffalo hide and the other, St. John the Baptist, was painted on deer-skin. Paintings such as these were rolled-up and carried around by the friars to teach the would-be converts about the new religion.

The Passion of Christ, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

St. John the Baptist, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

Rear of Church, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM
There is a large hand-carved beam supporting the front of the choir loft that is from the 1710 restoration of San Miguel.

The original 16th century church has been uncovered during excavations and is visible within the church.  Reports claim that ghosts from the San Miguel's previous incarnations visit the premises from time to time. These include a group of six Indians who emerge from a side hall and walk to the front of the chapel and young children running up and down the aisle.  The church guide with whom I spoke said that while he has never seen any of these specters, he has heard unusual noises.

Steps to Sanctuary of 1610 Church, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

Part of Altar of 1610 church, San Miguel Mission, Santa Fe NM

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cristos Negros: San Román Campeche, Merida, Mexico City

Cristo Negro, San Román Church, Campeche, MX

Although less well known than the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Cristos Negros, or Black Christs of Latin America are significant religious images.  They are called "black"  because of the dark color of the wood and all of them come with the story of a miraculous origin or arrival in their locale. During the colonial period, there was a stronger tradition of venerating images of Christ than those of Mary. Today there are approximately 300 Cristo Negro images revered in Latin America as well as a few in immigrant communities in the United States, as well. 

The Cristo Negro pictured above is that of San Román Church in the city of San Francisco de Campeche Yucatan, located on the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.  In colonial times, San Román was a barrio, or neighborhood, or this city which lay outside of the city walls.  In 1565 it was ordered to build a church in this area and obtain an image for it.  There is no clear story of the provenance of this image, the Cristo Negro, although consensus is that it came from Europe and, probably, Italy.  There is, however, a very elaborate story of its miraculous arrival in Campeche.

The image arrived in Veracruz and from there it had to be brought, by ship to Campeche. During its ocean voyage there was a terrible storm and just when all seemed lost, a mysterious dark-skinned sailor appeared and saved the ship. The legend suggests that this sailor was Christ.  Another story relates that a pirate tried to steal the statue but was unable to do remove it from the church.

San Román Church, Campeche, MX

Front Entrance, San Román Church, Campeche, MX

Front Altar, San Román Church, Campeche, MX

San Román Church, Campeche MX
The Cristo Negro of San Román is not only important to the barrio of San Román, but to the entire city of Campeche and has been converted into Campeche's patron saint.  His feast day, September 14, is a major event for the city and for the entire state of Campeche with the celebration continuing with fairs, rodeos and other events until September 28.  On the feast day, the image is carried through the city in procession and during the  two weeks of celebrations it is visited and venerated by the faithful in the church.

Why Black Christs?

There is one theory that says that all of the Cristos Negros stem from one particular image in Esquipulas, Guatamala which originated in 1595 which started off fair-skinned but whose wood darkened over time.  However, the Campeche image (1565) predates that in Esquipulas, so this theory is not borne out in this case.  This darkened Esquipulas image was well-received by the Mayan population of Guatemalas and although Cristos Negros were not meant to be a racial statements it could be one of a constellation of factors in their popularity.  There are over 300 Cristos Negros in Latin America, as well as in the U.S.   

At the time the Cristo Negro arrived at San Román, Campeche, the barrio was populated by Tlaxcalans, a people originally from Central Mexico.  There is no proof, but it has been suggested that a Christ image with a skin tone closer to theirs might have been more appealing.  The image of the Virgin of Guadalupe also has darker skin than European representations of the Virgin Mary which is one of  a constellation of reasons that she found rapid acceptance among the indigenous converts of colonial Latin America. People have an easier time identifying with images that look like them. 

Some other Cristos Negros:

Señor del Veneno, Catedral Metropolitano, Mexico City MX

This image, whose name roughly translates as Señor of the poison or venom, is located at the Altar of Pardon in the Cathedral.  The legend goes that, originally, this statue was light-skinned, but became dark when it miraculously absorbed poison that was meant to kill a bishop who came daily to adore the statue, kissing its feet. An enemy of this bishop put poison on the statue's feet, but when the bishop went to kiss its feet, it absorbed the poison and turned black, saving the life of the bishop.

Señor de Veneno at Altar of Pardon, Cathedral Metropolitano, Mexico City MX

Cristo de las Ampollas (Cristo de Ichmul) was carved in the Yucatan village of Ichmul and is now located in the Cathedral of Merida, Yucatan.

El Santo Cristo de las Ampollas

In 165, during a celebration, there was a fire in the Ichmul church where the image was located and the building was destroyed.  The image of Christ survived covered with blisters, ampollas in Spanish.   In honor of its miraculous preservation, the image was moved to the cathedral in Merida, the Yucatan capital, and a special chapel was built to contain it.
It was believed that the miraculous statue saved the city from a pestilence.  During the early 20th century anti-Christian persecution in Mexico, the original Señor Ampollas was destroyed and a replica build that is still in the Merida Cathedral.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The San Antonio Missions: 2015 UNESCO World Heritage Site

Mission San Antonio de Valero, "The Alamo", San Antonio, TX

The phrase "Remember the Alamo" is a part of America's lore.  Yet, outside of Texas, many do not know much about the Alamo's origins or the city, San Antonio, in which it is located. The Alamo was one of five Spanish missions in the area and all of these San Antonio Missions were recently awarded the status of UNESCO World Heritage site.  They are also  a U.S. State Park and the park rangers there are quick to tell visitors that San Antonio, not Williamsburg, was the real Colonial America. 

San Antonio's roots go back to June 13, 1691 when the place was discovered by a group of Spanish explorers and missionaries and named after San Antonio de Padua.  Permission to build a mission and other buildings was granted by the viceroy in 1716 although actual construction of the Mission San Antonio de Valero- the Alamo- and a few other structures did not begin until 1718.  All the missions were founded by monks of the Franciscan order based out of Querétero in Mexico.

By 1824 all five missions had been closed and the buildings turned over to local Catholic authorities. Over the years, through lack of use and maintenance, the buildings fell into a state of decay. Finally, in 1978, the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was formed and efforts to restore and preserve the missions began.

The five missions in the National Historical Park were built, as were all the missions of Colonial Mexico,  to bring Christianity to the indigenous population of the area. Until 1845 what is now Texas was a part of Mexico and the missions of San Antonio are every bit as Spanish as anything you will see in the former motherland.

Please note that all photos enlarge when clicked.

Mission San José

Misión San José y San José de Aguayo, was established in 1720.


Mission San José, San Antonio, TX (2012)

The church's baroque façade was restored in 1948.  The mission's patron saint, San José (St. Joseph)  is seen above the oval window. To the right is St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order and to the left is Saint Dominic, who had been a friend of St. Francis. Directly above the wood door is the Virgin of Guadalupe. 

Front Façade, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX

To the left and right of the door are statues of the Virgin Mary's parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne.

Front Façade, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX
Rose Window, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX

The church is built in the basilica style with one central aisle as was characteristic of most Franciscan mission churches in Mexico.   

Mission San José, San Antonio, TX

The altarpiece is elaborate and unusual in its coloration. Among some Pueblo groups, the color blue was sacred and had a special significance; I do not know if that has anything to do with the color of this altar, but it is a possibility to investigate. 

Front Altar, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX
Statue of Guadalupe, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX

Cloisters, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX

All of the San Antonio Missions, in addition to being center of religious conversion for the Coahuiltecan Indians, the indigenous peoples of Texas,  were also centers of protection, assistance and education for them.  These groups were preyed upon by roving bands of Apache and Comanches and the missions protected them from these depredations. In times of attack, the Coahuiltecans would retreat within the mission walls.  Some of them actually lived within the missions in quarters such as those in the photo. 

Former Indian Quarters, Mission San José, San Antonio, TX

Mission Espada

Misión San Francisco de la Espada was established in 1690 in Augusta, TX and moved in 1731 to San Antonio. 

It is unique among the missions, as well as among the majority of ex-conventos in Mexico, because it is once again an working Franciscan monastery.

Front Door, Mission Espada, San Antonio, TX

Cloister, Mission Espada, San Antonio, TX
The interior of this mission retains the original wood ceiling that was typical in the construction of the period.  The church is intimate and charming.

Church Interior, Mission Espada, San Antonio, TX

Front Altar area, Mission Espada, San Antonio, TX

Statue of Christ Scourged, Mission Espada, San Antonio, TX

Mission Concepción

 Misión Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña was established in a different location in Texas in 1716 and then moved in 1731 to San Antonio. Of all the missions, it was the best-preserved and least altered building, although like all the others it has required extensive renovation.

Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Mission Concepción, showing cloister, San Antonio, TX 

The altars in the church are modern and lack the carved altarpieces typically seen in Mexican colonial churches.  

Front Altar,  Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

View of Organ Loft, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Ciborium, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Guadalupe Altar, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Station of the Cross, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Chapel, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

 Mission Concepción has more early frescoes than the other missions and of these, only fragments remain. Wall frescoes were done for various purposes.  Some were meant to teach the indigenous converts about Christianity, others were decorative architectural accents and still others were meant to cover-up building flaws. The painting immediately below resembles an altar and perhaps substituted for an altarpiece in the early days of the mission.

Fresco, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX
Baptismal font with fresco above, Mission Concepcion, SanAntonio, TX

Fresco fragment, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX
Fresco fragment, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Visitors can still see some of the mission's original architecture inside of the building's cloister. Here is an original staircase that went up to the office of a mission official.

Original Arched Stairway, Mission Concepción, San Antonio, TX

Mission San Juan Capistrano

Misión San Juan Capistrano Mission was originally established in 1716 as Misión San Jose de los Nazonis and moved in 1731 to San Antonio. When I was there in 2012, the mission was under renovation and it was not possible to go inside.  Subsequently it has been finished and is open to the public; I plan on returning to San Antonio in the fall (2015) and will be updating this post.

Mission San Juan  Capistrano, San Antonio, TX (under renovation, 2102)

Espedaña, Mission San Juan Capistrano, San Antonio, TX

Cathedral of San Fernando

Although this is not a part of the San Antonio Missions Historical Park, this cathedral dating from 1750,  is an historically important building and houses the remains of those killed in the Alamo. It is also one of the oldest active Roman Catholic Cathedrals in the US.  It was from the tower of this building that in1836, at the beginning of the siege of the Alamo, General Santa Ana raised the red flag indicating that no one inside the Alamo was to be spared. 

Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, TX

The building which has been renovated several times is beautifully restored.                                                
Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, TX

Main Altar, Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, TX
The Spanish crown ordered San Antonio settled by a group of people from various places, including a contingent sent from the Canary Islands.  The statue of Our Lady of Candelaria  honors this group. 

Altar of Our Lady of Candelaria, San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, TX

Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, TX

Our Lady of Candelaria, Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, TX

An altar dedicated to Guadalupe is ubiquitous feature of most Mexican churches since Guadalupe is the Patron Saint of Mexico.

Altar of Guadalupe, San Fernando Cathedral, San Antonio, TX

Remains of the men who died at the Alamo are enshrined within the Cathedral as is written on the plaque in the photo below.

Plaque Commemorating Heroes of Alamo, Cathedral of San Fernando, San Antonio, TX
and there is a small coffin holding what are believed to be the ashes and charred bones
of the Alamo heroes.

Small Coffin holding charred remains and ashes of Alamo Heroes, Cathedral of San Fernando San Antonio, TX

An Accessible Piece of Old Mexico

It is easy to forget that Texas is more than cowboys, barbecue and that up until 1845 it was a part of Mexico.  Yet, some three hours west of Houston, colonial Mexico  still lives.  San Antonio and its missions still offer an authentic experience of the world of Colonial Mexico, conveniently located on US soil, and the whole city retains a Mexican cultural flavor and identity making it a place that is not to be missed.