Thursday, April 3, 2014


Another notable attraction that we toured during our visit to San Antonio last week was its series of Spanish missions.  There are five such missions stretching south from the downtown area on the banks of the San Antonio River, the northernmost being the Alamo.  The others are Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada.  One can actually walk from one mission to the next as a sort of pilgrimage, though we chose not to do that, as the roundtrip distance is around 18 miles, and . . . ahem . . . we only had a couple of hours.  As it was, we only had time to visit three of the missions (besides the Alamo), omitting Mission San Juan.

All of the missions were established in the first part of the 18th century, serving not just as religious centers but as refuges and military posts to deal with the Native American situation.  The missions are now maintained by the National Park Service collectively as a national historical park.  There are rangers at each location to answer questions and to provide free guided tours.

Our first stop was at Mission Concepcion, perhaps the most elaborate of the four.  Its exterior was very much in line with what I was expecting.

(Actually, we had visited the missions some 14 years ago during our only other visit to San Antonio, but the weather on that visit had been abysmal and I hadn't recalled much in the way of details.)

I wasn't sure how to capture the missions in photographs, as I was attempting to do two things at once, to document our visit and to try to take advantage of any artistic opportunities.  The day was beautiful, and provided ample opportunities for documentation.  But it was the interior that I found interesting artistically.

Here is a shot of a double doorway, if you will.  Just OK.  (I should have lowered the camera a foot or two, I think.)

It was the ceiling of the church that I felt stole the show.  I thought the light streaming through the windows really made the following shot.

(Given the low light conditions, in order to maintain sufficient depth of field and adequate shutter speed, I ramped up the ISO to 1000 for these interior shots.)

Thankfully, there was no restriction on photography in the church, and I found myself taking any number of shots of the nicely restored ceiling features.  Here are a couple more of those.

In this last shot I wanted to capture, not just the relationship of the curved features, but also the one of the upper windows.

My favorite of  the interior shots was the following.

Again, I thought the natural lighting really helped to make this symmetrical shot.

Then it was on to Mission San Jose, a couple of miles down the road.

I thought the exterior of this mission was more photogenic, especially the cross-topped dome.

This mission also featured a series of archways that offered some opportunities.

The interior of this mission's church was nicely restored and more elaborately decorated than Concepcion.

And the ceiling was, again, beautifully restored and interesting, but not quite as dramatic as Concepcion.

The church's exterior facade was also nicely restored, featuring some great religious statuary that showed nicely in the afternoon sunlight.

Then it was on to Mission Espada.  It was evident that this mission had more humble aspirations and must have served more of an agricultural, "working class" congregation.  Here are a couple of shots of the church's facade.

In this first photo I had wanted to capture all three of the bells (evidently symbolic of the Trinity) in clear silhouette, but the top bell was obscured at the bottom by some sort of structure.  In the second shot I wanted to focus on the texture of the restored stone and brick work around and above the church's doors.

As mentioned, the interior of the church as Espada was modest in size and quite rudimentary.  Here is a statue of the Christ figure at the front of the sanctuary.

My only regret is that we were not able to visit the fourth mission, San Juan.  Perhaps another time.


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