Just a few blocks off the popular River Walk in San Antonio Texas is the beautiful and historic San Fernando Cathedral. With the formation of the Diocese of San Antonio in 1874, the church was designated a cathedral. The cathedral is still active and received a visit by the pope in 1987.
Historical Facts Regarding the Building and Renovation of San Fernando Cathedral
The San Fernando Cathedral was built by settlers from the Canary Islands, who arrived in the area in 1731, after they were granted land and title by King Philip V of Spain.The San Fernando cathedral is also very near to the Alamo. The cornerstone of the existing structure was laid in 1738. The Alamo was also built in the early 1700’s and was given the name Mission San Antonio de Valero.
The Gothic design at the front of the San Fernando Cathedral was finished around the year 1868. This was the time that the church underwent a large renovation. It is said that much of the original church from about 1749 remains as the sanctuary area around the altar. San Fernando Cathedral has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating cathedral in the United States and the oldest structure in Texas.
A Very Historical Site
San Fernando Cathedral, then a church, witnessed plenty of history including the War for Mexican Independence and then not long after that the War for Texas Independence. Quite a lot of history in what was at that time the largest settlement in Texas.
San Fernando Cathedral sits on what is said to be the center of San Antonio. At one time all distances in Texas were measured from the dome of the then church.
When you visit San Antonio Texas a stop at San Fernando Cathedral is a must. The cathedral is a beautiful structure as you can see from the photos in this article. Along with the cathedrals rich history and beautiful architecture is a very unique story that involves the Texas defenders from the Battle of the Alamo in 1836. In fact the church actually played a part in the battle of the Alamo. It was from the cathedral’s tower that Santa Ana raised a blood red flag to signal the Alamo defenders that no quarter would be given. It’s also been said that Santa Ana also used the cathedral as a lookout post.
Just inside the front entrance of San Fernando Cathedral is a small coffin that most people believe holds the remains of the Alamo defenders. History tells us that after the Alamo was finally seized by the Mexican Army and Texan survivors were rounded up, Santa Ana ordered the prisoners executed and their bodies burned.
The story of what happened to the ashes of the defenders is not without some controversy.
What is Known About the Defender’s Ashes
By the 1800’s the missionaries at the Alamo had left and the former mission essentially became a military compound. In fact the name “El Alamo” came from the soldiers who occupied it. The name comes from the cottonwood trees that surrounded it.
The siege of the Alamo began on February 23, 1836. The battle lasted for thirteen days.
A detail was sent to San Antonio about a year after the battle to recover the remains of the Alamo defenders.
It is said that the bodies were burned at three different locations all relatively near the front of the Alamo.
One story is that the ashes were collected and put in a wooden box and taken to San Fernando Cathedral for a memorial. After the memorial the box was buried at the site of the largest fire.
Another version of events say that the ashes were collected and taken to San Fernando and buried near the altar.
Historians are not in total agreement as to whether the ashes in the crypt are indeed those of the Alamo defenders. Supposedly bits of uniform were said to be found in the ashes and it’s generally believed that no Alamo defenders wore uniforms of any kind.
Today, the ashes are in a stone crypt at the cathedral’s front entrance. Whether the ashes in this crypt are those of the Alamo’s garrison will only be answered by some type of scientific testing.
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The Guenther House and Historic Pioneer Flour Mill / San Antonio
San Antonio Texas is one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S. Visiting San Antonio allows you to take in the many historic sites and structures in what was once the largest settlement in Texas. Other great family attractions include SeaWorld and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.
San Antonio is also home to several other historic Spanish missions in San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. This large historical park which was established in 1978 preserves four of the five missions built in San Antonio Texas. When visiting this National Park you’ll be able to follow guided tours of the churches and grounds by very knowledgeable park rangers.
(Article and photos copyright 2014 TripsIntoHistory)