Founded in 1720, the mission was named for Saint Joseph and the Marqués de San Miguel de Aguayo, the governor of the Province of Coahuila and Texas at the time. It was built on the banks of the San Antonio river several miles to the south of the earlier mission, San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo). Its founder was the famed Father Antonio Margil de Jesús, a very prominent Franciscan missionary in early Texas.
Queen of the Missions
San José, as it became known, was the largest of the missions in the area. At its height, the community contained about 300 Indian neophytes sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock. Viewed as the model among the Texas missions, San José gained a reputation as a major social and cultural center. It became known as the “Queen of the Missions.” Its imposing complex of stone walls, bastions, granary, and magnificent church was completed in 1782.
So rich an enterprise was a natural target for Apache and Comanche depredations. With technical help from the two presidial soldiers garrisoned there, San José residents learned to defend themselves. Already proficient with bow and arrow, Indians also learned the use of guns and cannon.
A Lasting Symbol
Although they could not prevent raids on their livestock, the mission itself was almost impregnable. In his journal, Fray Juan Agustín Morfí attested to its defensive character: “It is, in truth, the first mission in America . . . in point of beauty, plan, and strength . . . there is not a presidio along the entire frontier line that can compare with it.” Mission San José has become a lasting symbol throughout the centuries for the mission frontier in Texas.
Having fallen into disrepair and partial ruin over the years, the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Federal Government among others, undertook to restore portions of the mission community in the 1920s and 1930s. The church, which had lost its dome, bell tower, and a wall, was rededicated in 1937. In 1941, Mission San José was declared a State Historic Site, and later that same year, a National Historic Site.
Carved doors at Mission San José’s church entrance.. The present doors were carved in 1937 by Peter Mansbendel to replace those removed in the 1880s. Using historic stereoscopic images, Mansbendel reproduced the original door design in 2.5 inch thich Black Wanut. . Small doors fitted within the larger ones are used to enter the church. Mansbendel carved these doors in 6 weeks.
Sculpture of Saint Anne and Infant Mary
The image of Saint Anne, holding the infant Mary (mother of Jesus), appears on the facade of Mission San José church (photo: 1995). The niche in which it stands is flanked by anacanthous leaves and pomegranates. This statue was restored ca. 1948-1950 by Ernest Lenarduzzi. The restoration was based on early photographs of the original figure.
The Rose Window
La Ventana de Rosa, the Rose Window, south window of Mission San José’s sacristy The window, sculpted ca. 1775, has been the object of both legend and admiration. The window has also been described during the Feast of Pentecost as the site where the host was shown to gathered mission celebrants.
Church at Mission San José
Southwest elevation of the church and convento at Mission San José (early 20th century). The image was made prior to the collapse of the bell tower in 1928. The sacristy dome does not appear in the image, having collapsed in 1873. The fence that is seen was erected by the Landmark Society ca. 1904, one year after the collapse of the spiral choir stairwell leading up the tower. By the early 20th century, visitors were regularly traveling from San Antonio to see the missions.
This image of the southwest elevation of the church and convento at Mission San José, taken in 1995, gives the viewer a glimpse of the remnants of the largest structure in the park remaining from the mission period. The arches are all that remain of the convento, which housed the missionaries. During the reconstruction of the mission in the 1920s and 1930s, the convento was not rebuilt. In the 1850’s Benedictines from Latrobe, Pennsylvania purchased the mission complex from the Diocese of San Antonio – they planned to develop it as a school for boys. The American Civil War intervened and the property reverted to the diocese. The partial construction in the convento precept in 19th century gothic style led those planning Spanish colonial reconstruction to refrain from doing so in light of the destruction of the provenance of the original structure.
Detail of cedar panel of the sacristy door of the church at Mission San José . This door is the original door and may be one of very few items of wood that survived at the mission from the colonial period. It was removed in 1947 and returned in 1953 after being refinished. The door is located on the east wall of the sacristy, and may have been protected from the elements by an adjoining room.
Sculpture of San Joaquin
Located on the facade of the church at Mission San José . The statue is to the north of the entrance. It was restored by Ernest Lenarduzzi ca. 1948-1950. The statue’s left arm fell off in 1984. San Joaquin was the husband of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, whose figure can be found on the opposite side of the entrance. Little is known about his life.
Text Courtesy of Mission San Jose
Mission Carved Front Doors
The following information is from a 1937 pamphlet dedicating the doors to the church:
The massive doors of cedar with carved panels in walnut are a replica of the original ones which disappeared around 1897.
The doors measure nine feet and six inches by fourteen feet eight inches; they are 5 inches thick.
These doors were hand-carved By Swiss artist Peter Mansbendel. The evident marks of the artist’s chisel withness thereto. The picture of the old door was painstakingly scrutinized under a magnifying glass and then each minutest detail produced in the new doors.
The large doors reovle on dowels above and below. The doors within the large doors swing on staple-hinges as did the originals. Time and the elements will soon impart to these doors the sacred tinge of time.
A shell and cross are prominent in each door. A shell poured the saving waters of baptism on the neophyte; and baptism through the Saviors merits on the Cross, granted the neophyte admission into the church.
Peter Mansbendel did sign the doors on the lower right side of the right door.