American Images: Mission San Francisco de la Espada by John English





San Antonio has been molded in the spirit of the padres, baptized by a river that winds, twist, and meanders through the city – as the Indians used to say – like a drunken old man going home at night.

The Spanish came in 1724 because there was a river. They were looking for a home. During those hardship days of the eighteenth century, the river became the lifeline for five Spanish missions that stand, even today, with the pride and dignity of their heritage.

One is Mission San Francisco de la Espada, located about a mile away from the unique Espada Dam. The dam, made from adobe mixed with goat’s milk, is an engineering paradox. It curves the wrong way, yet has withstood every flood for the past two centuries.

When the Texas army reached San Antonio in the territory’s struggle for independence, Jim Bowie and William Travis used Espada as a stronghold to withstand the opening volleys of conflict with the Mexican forces of Santa Ana.

Both men would leave Espada and die in the final battle of the Alamo.

To gaze at the mission is to glimpse another era.

Artist/photographer John English has captured the warmth, beauty, and spirit of a time that was and is no more.

He pointed out, “After their retreat from East Texas in 1731, the founders of San Francisco de los Tejas moved the mission to the San Antonio River and renamed it San Francisco de la Espada.

“Mission Espada appears as remote today as it did in the mid 1700’s. It boasts the best-preserved segments of the historic acequias (the irrigation system designed to provide water for crops) part of which includes the still working Espada Dam and Aqueduct.”

Within the ruins of the mission’s walls are a granary, the missionary quarters, and a fortified mission. The kilns of Espada are the only known lime kilns in Texas that survived the Spanish Colonial period.

The mission was built as a sign of peace.

It felt the brunt of war.

John English, in this photograph of the cross, has transported us back to the spirit of a sacred and holy place that refused to die or fade away with the passage of time.

John English
John English

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