Mission Espada was first established in East Texas in 1690 and was named San Francisco de los Tejas. This mission, like the others established there, failed and was moved to San Antonio on March 5, 1731. The chapel used today was begun in 1745. Another permanent church was begun a few years later but was torn down because it was unsafe and threatened to collapse. Foundation walls of that church, a granary, a two-story convento, various workshops and Indian apartments around the wall of the compound are still standing.
The Spanish mission plan had called for a ten year program but this little mission, like the others, lasted many, many years beyond the limit. It lasted a total of 134 years from its initial establishment in East Texas and it had existed for 83 of those years at its final site in San Antonio before complete secularization in 1824.
Later, after the mission closed, the church was unused and eventually fell into ruins. The side walls and the roof fell in and all that was left standing were the front and back walls. In 1858 a new priest was assigned to Mission Espada, and with his own hands he rebuilt the side walls on the old foundations and then plastered and whitewashed them. He put a tin roof on the chapel and placed new doors at the entrances. Inside the chapel he laid a wooden floor, built a choir loft, set up a sanctuary railing and installed simple but sturdy pews with benches and kneelers.
This last mission in the San Antonio chain of missions has some other unique features. One is the unusual arch over the main door at the front of the church. This arch has fascinated and puzzled observers for years. Properly constructed, the voussoirs, or shaped stones, in this Moorish arch should curve in an unbroken line. The two lower stones on each side break the curve. An explanation offered by one authority suggests that the inexperienced Indians who made it had never actually seen such an arch and possibly cut the bottom stones incorrectly. Had they been cut correctly and turned around, they would have made a perfect curve. In spite of this architectural mistake, the archway successfully has withstood years of neglect and the weathering of time.
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