Our next stop along the Mission Trail was the San Jose Mission; completed in 1782, this magnificent complex was the largest of the missions of the area. This self-contained community was home to approximately three hundred and fifty Native Americans at its height and was sustained by extensive fields and herds of livestock.
The architectural carvings of the San Jose Mission were unlike any that I had seen in San Antonio and were truly works of art. I think Fr. Juan Agustin Morfi summed it up when he said in 1778, "In a word, no one could have imagined that there were such good artists in so desolate a place." Above is the famous Rose Window of the San Jose Mission Church, which is a masterpiece of colonial Baroque artistry--even Oscar Wilde was impressed when he visited the Mission in the summer of 1882: "Those old Spanish churches, with their picturesque remains and dome and their handsome carved stonework, standing amide the verdure and sunshine of a Texas prairie, gave me a thrill of strange pleasure."
The Mission fell into disuse and disrepair over the years until it was restored in the 1930s by the San Antonio Conservation Society and the Works Progress Administration. One of the buildings that was restored at that time was the large granary, which now houses a miniature-scale model of the Mission compound as it would have appeared in the eighteenth century.
The gorgeous barrel-vaulted granary also retained remnants of colorful trompe l'oeil frescoes of architectural elements, such as columns and chair-rail moldings. It was also a good fifteen degrees cooler in there, which made it a nice place to stop and linger while soaking up the history.
Walking around the Mission, it was easy to see why it was known as the Queen of the Missions--beautiful details popped up in the most unexpected of places, like this carved downspout along one of the walls of the church, or the somber putto framing the rear entrance into the chapel pictured below. I easily could have spent several more hours exploring the Mission, but the three of us were getting a bit peckish so it was time to head back to the hotel and figure out what to do for dinner. I know if I ever happen to find myself in San Antonio again, I'll definitely be setting aside a full day to explore all four of the Missions in great detail.