Monday, May 17, 2010

Queen of the Missions

The Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo is considered the "Queen of Missions" and was the second of the missions founded in what grew to become San Antonio, Texas.  On our recent trip to San Antonio we spent some time touring the mission complex.

The view above is of the restored entrance to the mission which was founded in 1720.  The compound is very large and from outside the entrance we were unable to see the church.

Once we entered the gate I turned around a took this photo from the inside.  Notice the platform and gun ports above the gate.

In the first photo you should have noticed the round structure to the right.  The photo above is the inside of that building.  Note the cannon ports as well as the gun port at the top.  A platform at slightly higher than head height encircled the room giving the guards a place to stand from which to fire through the ports.  This mission was more than just a church.  It was a fortified city able to resist attack by Comanche and other tribes.

The above view is from the gate, looking toward the church.  In the foreground you see the foundation of another structure -- possibly officers quarters for the troops stationed at the mission.

The interior of the walls was actually a continuous series of apartments that housed the Indians (native Americans if you prefer) that had been converted to the Catholic faith.  In many ways, these Indians were slaves in service of the church -- tending fields, digging the system of acequias, and providing labor for other tasks as needed.  There were also compartments used for storing arms and ammunition and store rooms of other sorts.  Note the oven for baking.

As we approached the church complex we began to realize the size of the structure.  Again, note the oven on the right and the foundation of another building ahead.

This is another view of the church complex.  The mission was constructed over a period between 1768 and 1782 using the labor of the Indian converts.

Most people would call this yucca -- I grew up calling it Bear Grass.  Yucca is generally a broader leaf.  The showy blooms on these caught my eye.

I like the arches.  The contrast beween the greenery and the stone of the ancient structure emphasizes the "Old World" look of the church and attached buildings.

The different layers of this perspective were interesting to me.  Note that there are three rows of arches.

This was a rare moment that the walk beneath the arches had no people in it.

Water is always a necessity.  There were a couple of wells within the property as well as the acequia flowing just to the rear of the church complex.  An acequia is an irrigation canal.  If the inhabitants of the fortified city were cut off from the San Antonio River and irrigation canals, they would always have a supply of water at hand within the walls.

Behind the church complex were the Friars quarters and beyond them, a flour mill.  The mill you see in the photo was probably the most intriguing part of the mission complex to me.  What you see is a guess as to the way the original mill appeared.  This is a restoration that was done in the 1930's.  The grindstone is a monolithic block of chert.  The short post on the left supported a beam beneath the floor which in turn supported the water wheel and grindstone mechanism.  The wedges driven through the slot in the post were used to adjust the tolerance of the grindstone by slightly raising or lowering the mechanism below the floor.  The taller post was a crane that could be pivoted and used to lift the stone for cleaning or replacement.

This mill could produce about 50 lbs. of flour per hour -- more than enough to supply the approximately 300 residents.  The wheat was poured into the hopper at the top and the flour caught in a bucket.  This mill house has a stone floor.  It is more likely that the floor was made of wood so that in the event the grindstone was dropped it wouldn't break.  Such stones were prized possessions and difficult to come by -- likely being imported from France.

The wooden arm protruding through the window controlled the water flow by raising and lowering a gate.  The water fell approximately 9 feet to turn a horizontal waterwheel attached to the shaft which in turn rotated the grindstone.

Above is a photo of the church and you can just make out the Friars Quarters on the left edge of the photo.

Stonework above the entry to the church.

The Madonna and Child.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mission Concepcion, San Antonio, Texas

The Mission Concepcion in San Antonio, Texas, was another stop on our recent travels.  Established in 1716, it was re-located to its present site in 1731 and is the oldest un-restored church in America.  The mission is located at 807 Mission Road.  At its height, around 1762, the mission boasted a population of 207 and had seen 792 baptisms.  It had ceased to exist as an independent mission by the end of the century.

Mission Concepcion

The ruined area to the right contained the living quarters of the Franciscans.

I'm always facinated by arches which were critical to the strength and stability of the structure.  It's too bad the park service finds it necessary to place modern benches and garbage containers in the structure.

The orginal paintings on the interior are very interesting.  Note the steel supporting rod at the top of the photo -- not original equipment.

The church continues to be used today.  It is interesting to see the contrast between the modern greenery and rug and the painting on the plastered walls.

The seating is very old although not, I'm sure, as old as the structure itself.  Note again the arched ceiling necessary for strength.  The dome that can be seen in the first photo covers the altar area at the front of the chapel that you see in this photo.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Enchanted Rock

This past weekend my wife and I took a brief trip to Central Texas.  We just needed to "get away" for a few days.  We left home with no specific plans but did have a general idea of the various "opportunities" in the area where we were headed.

One of the places we visited was Enchanted Rock State Park.  I have included a few photos.

Enchanted Rock is one of the largest batholiths in the United States.  A batholith is an underground rock formation that has been uncovered by erosion.  It consists of the distinctive pink granite which is the same used to build the Texas state capitol building.

The rock rises 425 feet above ground and covers approximately 640 acres.  The view from the top is outstanding.

If you click on the picture it should open in a larger size so that you can get an idea of the view.  The photo above includes an interesting feature of the dome.  There were a number of places where enough soil had collected in "low" spots on the batholith that plants have become established.  There is enough rainfall (about 28 inches per year) to maintain the plants.  This was a thicket of dewberries.  You can see the berries in the photo below.

Enchanted Rock is located a few miles north of Fredericksburg, Texas.  It, like many other batholiths throughout the world, was considered sacred by some.  The Tonkawa tribes believed that it was the home of various spirits.  This was likely due to the flickering lights that they claimed to see dancing on the giant dome of granite.  There are many legends about the rock.

The first well-documented exploration of the area was in 1723 when the Spanish sent parties to the area northwest of San Antonio for the purpose of establishing missions in the Apacheria.  Although the area that was to become San Antonio had been explored at least as early as 1691, the city was not established until 1718.  It quickly became the heart of Spanish Texas.

Many areas of Enchanted Rock are enjoyed by rock climbers.  We observed a number of individuals rappelling on the west face.  Following the trail, the hike to the top doesn't take long and is a fairly smooth walk.  It will give you a workout if you aren't used to climbing.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Insolent Weakness

"Insolence is the armor of the weak.  It is a device to induce courage in the face of one's own panic."  __ Henry Kissinger

When I first read the above statement it caught my attention.  It was spoken by Henry Kissinger during the period in which he was attempting to negotiate an honorable settlement to the Vietnam war.  Nguyen Van Thieu, Chief-of-State of South Vietnam, became insolent toward both Kissinger and President Richard Nixon in the weeks prior to the 1971 Presidential election when he felt he was being forced to accept a settlement with North Vietnam that left Communist forces within the borders of the South.  He was in a powerless position and yet used the U.S. election as a lever against giving in to the terms of the agreement which had been negotiated bilaterally between the U.S. and the North Vietnamese in the Paris talks.  He saw that Nixon was vulnerable to opposing Presidential candidate George McGovern's "peace-at-any-cost" position in the election.

Upon reflection, I saw that the statement was applicable beyond the context in which it was spoken.  My first thought is that it sometimes applies to teenagers -- especially those who are attempting to flex their "independence muscles" and are rebellious to their parents.  They fear leaving the nest and yet feel instinctually driven to do so.  They become belligerent toward first one parent and then the other.  In a two-parent household there is usually at least one parent that retains some level of communication with the teen.  In a single-parent household the result is often disaster for the teen and the already broken family.

I have also seen the quote to be an accurate description of situations encountered in business.  It is usually manifest in posturing within a company meeting -- perhaps a planning group or committee.  It is an attempt to overcome powerlessness and inadequacy with a bluff.  When one is in a true position of strength there is no need for the bluster.  It is frequently the quiet one in the room that holds the power.

Insolence appears to be just another expression of insecurity.  When one is confident in one's place in the world there is no need to either lash out at others or to attempt to dominate them -- either physically or in conversation.  Such confidence can only come from the security of a relationship with Jesus.  Through His power we can experience a quiet peace that comes from His Spirit within us.  In Him alone is our strength and confidence.

"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."  __ Phillipians 4:13