The other day, after my sessions finished for the afternoon I hopped into the car and headed south along the river to the original settlement in the area. Founded in 1720, the mission Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo 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.
San José, as it became known, was the largest of the missions in the area. At its height, the community contained about 350 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 by 1782.
So rich an enterprise was a natural target for Apache and Comanche attackss. 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." The danger was when working the fields or during travel to and from the ranch or other missions. With technical help from the two presidial soldiers garrisoned there, San José residents learned to defend themselves. Already proficient with bow and arrow, the men also learned the use of guns and cannon
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. When the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park was established in November 1978, the Spanish colonial mission was assured of protection in cooperation with the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the parish.