Sunday, March 4, 2012

San Fernando Cathedral: San Antonio

San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio, Texas, 
is the oldest cathedral in the U.S., the oldest standing church building in Texas, and the seat of the archbishop of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The church was begun by 15 families from the Canary Islands in March 1731 when they arrived at the Presidio of San Antonio. They had been sent as a result of a recommendation by King Phillip V of Spain to establish a civil settlement to prevent an incursion by the French. It was built between 1738, when the cornerstone was laid, and 1750 and named after King Ferdinand III of Castile who ruled during the 13th century. 
The original walls still stand today, 
forming the sanctuary, the area around and behind the altar. 
For us, it was particularly interesting because of its connection with the Battle of the Alamo. The Alamo is about a half-mile away. In 1836, General Santa Ana hoisted a flag of no quarter (refusing to spare their lives if they surrendered) from the church tower which began the siege. It is now the resting place (at least arguably) 
for the remains of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis and Jim Bowie who were killed during the siege. 
Charred bones, nails and shreds of uniforms were unearthed during renovation in 1936 and the remains of the defenders of the Alamo were purported to have been buried under the sanctuary railing by Colonel Juan Seguin who took control of the Alamo after Texas won independence. The church was also visited by Zebulon Pike in 1808 when he was exploring the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. The baptismal font is believed to be a gift from Charles III, who became King of Spain in 1759. 
The original tower, the front of the church and the eastern wall were torn down in 1868 to renovate it as a French Gothic building. 
The work was completed in 1873. This was in preparation for its naming as a cathedral for the diocese of San Antonio by Pope Pius IX in 1874. 
The church now has two towers and three portals. The stained glass windows were added in 1920. 
Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in 1987 during the only visit of a pope to Texas. We visited on a Saturday morning during a baptismal service and were very pleasantly surprised for how welcome we were made to feel, despite the service going on, as we were encouraged to enter. I was uncomfortable intruding the service, not wanting to disrupt it, and after a few minutes we left to visit elsewhere and returned later after the service was finished. Looking back toward the front of the church.
I particularly loved a statue of Mary 
standing on a pedestal supported by young angels.
A statue of Jesus.
The church is beautifully lit at night. I love the reflection of the light, below, in the puddles left by rain earlier in the day.
The lighting highlights some of the interesting architectural details.
From the back with the original walls in the foreground.
The ribbed side.
I think San Antonio may be the most beautiful city at night we've ever seen. In addition to the beautiful cathedral, the spectacular Bexar County Courthouse, with its beehive dome, is across the street, 
the Tower Life building with the Texas flag flying overhead, 
and the stunning Alamo with the appropriately lit sign of the Crockett Hotel looming above it in the air. 

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures, and really interesting info. Let's go back. You can wander through the architecture, and I'll eat German chocolate cake.