The power of religion seen in San Antonio’s fortress missions along the river

A mockingbird sang from the top of a mesquite, then flew at another bird deep in the canopy. Males are fighting for territories, even in the non-breeding season. It was hot, baking enough for the mesquite to perfume the air, but my phone said only 82 degrees, so a good 20 or 30 degrees cooler than the summer. It is October in Texas.

Other fights for territories can be seen with this string of fortress missions, extending south along the San Antonio river beginning with San Antonio de Valero right in town, built in 1718, according to the National Parks website. This one, now called the Alamo, and of obvious fame, was the only one that was always here. The other four, San Jose, San Juan, Concepción, and Espada were formed from relocations from East Texas. They failed there because of fights with the French and malaria. They failed here because of fights with the Comanches and Apaches, and because of other diseases, again, according to the parks service. Or did they ultimately succeed? Is this not a Catholic city? How much does the church own here now?

We drove to a couple of these missions, but I could see the only way to really enjoy them is by bicycle. Maybe next time we can do that. The trail in between, the modest river, the wintering flocks of cowbirds, blackbirds, the migrants, all would be better enjoyed from a bike. I also imagine the terrain in between to be as interesting as the missions. We’d have to carry water, even in October. As it was, Philip, Dave, and I shared the quart of water we carried, and it was enough.

As a kid I never did get it when we studied the power of the church. How could a place that smelled of lysol and was visited only on Sunday get the power to pull out fingernails, enslave, and otherwise crush? I get it now. It was government with the backing of false righteousness. It was some men claiming ultimate power, with no chance for disagreement. If government is not connected to religion, disagreement, and the rights of the minority, at least have a chance sometimes. If some men claim their god gives them the right to lash, stone, or behead, what chance do we have? What did the people think when these missions moved in? Did they fool them into thinking their power came from god, and not from reinforcements farther south? Has this power endured? Do the contributions put in the boxes they have go to the park or the church? How about the money taken for candle lighting? What is the separation of church and state here?

Maybe it is best to just enjoy the smidgeon of nature preserved in generally private Texas by these mission parks, and watch the mockingbirds.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Natural areas, Parks, San Antonio, Texas, Texas history and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The power of religion seen in San Antonio’s fortress missions along the river

  1. Nancy says:

    Hi Joan: I discovered your blog a couple of weeks ago – I’ve found it’s kind of a retreat for me. You convey the Houston feeling beautifully. I enjoy your insights into Houston, where I grew up (I remember when Hobby Airport was built!). I live in College Station now, but go to Houston often, so I was especially pleased to find your posts about restaurants.

    Off topic, can you tell me the name of the plugin below your posts that contains “Share this: with the icons Email, Facebook, Print, More”?

    • Hi Nancy, Glad you like it. WordPress has those icons, can’t remember under what, maybe sharing. I really like the WordPress interface. Houston is a hard place to love, a hard place to miss. I’m so glad to be back, even just for a few days.

  2. Nancy says:

    Love this:
    “It was government with the backing of false righteousness. It was some men claiming ultimate power, with no chance for disagreement.”

  3. LD says:

    Those are some beautiful church images that you’ve captured.

  4. Julia says:

    I love reading your posts about your time in San Antonio, where I grew up.

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