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Appearing much as it did when it was completed in 1755, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña—or simply, Mission Concepción—is according to the National Park Service "the oldest unrestored stone church in America." Franciscan Friars founded the mission in 1711 in East Texas and moved it to San Antonio in 1731. They named it after Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and the then viceroy of New Spain, Juan de Acuña, the Marqués de Casafuerte (1658-1734). The mission is also known for being the site of the Battle of Concepción (October 28, 1835), the first major battle of the Texas Revolution. The mission was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and is a part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. It is also a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an active Catholic parish today.

Built in 1755, Mission Concepción is the country's oldest unrestored church. It took 20 years to complete and is active parish today..

Built in 1755, Mission Concepción is the country's oldest unrestored church. It took 20 years to complete and is active parish today..

Mission Concepción

Franciscan Friars founded the mission in East Texas to proselytize the Hainai Indians and named it Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de los Hainais. It was one of six missions the Friars established on each side of the present-day Texas-Louisiana border and located near the town of Douglass. Around 3,000 of the Hainai Indians, whom the Spanish called "Tejas," agreed to join and be baptized at the first three missions shortly after the missions were founded. Life at the missions was difficult, however. They did not receive any supplies for years and experienced severe drought and hunger. The Friars also had difficulty in convincing the Hainai to live at the missions. These and other factors prompted the Friars to move Mission Concepción to San Antonio. Three other missions were moved to the Colorado River near present-day Austin but were soon moved to San Antonio as well.

Mission Concepción experienced a number of challenges throughout its history. In the 1730s, disputes over land ownership and mission rights occurred between the Friars and upper-class residents of San Antonio. Apache Indians also frequently attacked and threatened local Coahuiltecan Indians. A smallpox epidemic resulted in the deaths of many Indians here and at other missions. The number of those living at Mission Concepción dropped from 250 to 120. Fortunately, the mission recovered in the 1940s and peace was achieved between the Apaches and Spanish by 1749. By 1755, the year the church was completed after twenty years of construction, the population rose to 247 and the mission had hundreds of cattle, sheep, and many horses.

In the 1760s, attacks from Comanches and other northern tribes compelled some Indians to leave the missions. By 1786, there were only around 71 Indians living at Mission Concepción. A major factor in the decline was likely another outbreak of smallpox. Only 38 Indians were living at the mission in 1794. That year the mission and others were partially secularized under civil authorities of San Antonio and the Mission Concepción land was distributed among the last Indian residents. Another mission, San José, took over Mission Concepción as well. Mission Concepción finally ceased to be a mission in 1823.

The Republic of Texas transferred ownership to the Catholic Church in 1841 but the church was used as a barn and then as a supply depot for the U.S. Army. In 1855, Marian Friars acquired the mission and restored the church and opened a novitiate, which only operated for a few years. Masses resumed on May 28, 1861. The Marianists transferred the property to the bishop in 1911. In the coming decades, an orphanage, convent, a minor seminary, and two halls were built. The seminary closed in 1970.

The church is known for colorful frescos. Originally, frescoes covered the front of the church and throughout the interior but the remaining ones are only located in four rooms. The most famous one is believed to portray God as a mestizo (a person of mixed European and Indian heritage).

Battle of Concepción

As noted above, the Battle of Concepción was the first engagement of Texas Revolution and the Siege of Béxar (San Antonio). On October 28, 1835, a Mexican force of 275 troops and cavalry led by Colonel Domingo Ugartechea attacked a Texan force of around 90 soldiers here on the mission grounds. The Texans, led by James Bowie and James W. Fannin, were ordered to find a favorable position near San Antonio. They settled on a site at the mission next on an embankment on the east side of the San Antonio River. Urgartecha was ordered to attack the Texans the next day. The Mexican cavalry approached the camp from the west side of the river and the troops attacked from the east. The Texans were well positioned, however, and repelled three Mexican charges. The Texans then counterattacked, seized one of the canons, and forced the Mexicans to retreat. The battle lasted only about half an hour. At least 14 Mexicans were killed and 39 were wounded; only one Texan was killed and another was wounded. The Texans were part of a larger army of a total of 400 troops led by Stephen Austin. The siege ended six week later when the Mexicans surrendered.

"The Battle of Concepción." The Historical Marker Database. Accessed April 5, 2023.

Bar, Alwyn. "Concepcion, Battle of." Handbook of Texas Online. Last Updated October 2, 2019. Accessed April 05, 2023.

"Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña." National Park Service. Accessed June 10, 2014. 

Snell, Charles. "Mission Concepción." Nationa Survey of Historic Sites and Buildings. October 15, 1966.

Image Sources(Click to expand)

Travis Witt, via Wikimedia Commons: