Although the Alamo is a national historic site (especially for Texans!), most visitors don’t realize that before the famous 1836 battle between a few dozen men and a Mexican army numbering in the thousands, this site was already holy ground as a Franciscan mission founded to evangelize the area’s Native Americans.
In 1724, Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares relocated Mission San Antonio de Valero (founded six years earlier) to a more promising location. The Mexican government seized the property in 1792.
After Colonel Dickinson and his men made their last stand there, the mission suffered a great deal of damage, leaving only a very small chapel and the friars’ residence (the convent). The mission compound has been partially recreated. Many visitors are surprised—maybe even disappointed—at the site, now in the noisy heart of downtown San Antonio.
Those who brace themselves for these changes will probably enjoy their experience much more than someone who only remembers John Wayne’s 1960 movie The Alamo.
In the city’s San Fernando Cathedral, a white marble sarcophagus contains the remains of the mission’s fallen defenders.
Because General Santa Ana considered the defenders to be simply rebels, his troops burned their corpses. After the Mexican army left, Texans gathered up the remains, sealed them in a chest, and buried it in the cathedral’s sanctuary. After the chest was rediscovered in 1936, the remains were moved to the vestibule.
When you visit the Alamo, step into the old, battered chapel and say a prayer for the missionaries and their converts. Pray also for the souls of the brave men who died at the Alamo.
Adapted from 101 Places to Pray Before You Die by Thomas J. Craughwell (Franciscan Media).