|San Ferando Cathedral
Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe
115 Main Plaza
San Antonio, Texas 78205
NRHP Reference#: 75001949
HABS No. Tex-34
The site for the Church of San Fernando was selected on July 2, 1731, when Juan Antonio Pérez de Almazán, captain of
the Presidio of San Antonio, laid out a central square for the villa of San Fernando de Béxar, as San Antonio was first
called. The church was to be located on the west side of the square. After Almazan selected the site of the doorway of
the church the Main Plaza was laid out from the doorway.
Before and during the construction of the town's parish church, the fifty-five immigrants from the Canary Islands and the
presidio families attended services at the presidio chapel at San Antonio de Valero Mission. Although information is
contradictory, the cornerstone for the first attempt to build a stone church was laid most likely on May 11, 1738. In
1746an order was issued requiring the citizens of San Fernando and other residents of the area to assist in the work of
finishing the church.
In 1748 the viceroy approved a donation of 12,000 pesos to complete the church. With funds secured, two artisans from
San Luis Potosí, Gerónimo de Ibarra (a master stonemason) and Felipe de Santiago (a stonecutter), were hired to
continue the project. Ibarra razed the earlier construction and enlarged the dimensions of the building. He completed the
church in 1755. The walls of that church today form the sanctuary of the cathedral, which gives rise to its claim as the
oldest cathedral in the State of Texas and the United States.
Description of the Building
The construction of the building took eleven years with a building plan of a Latin Cross with transept and dome. The
building was built of rock. The walls were rubble limestone and lime mortar and the exterior was stuccoed. Three
buttresses on each side strengthened the nave walls. These had one off-set with weatherings at the off-set and at the
tops. A plain parapet shielded the roof vaults. The structure was cruciform with polygonal transepts and apse and had a
low dome topped by a small lantern over the crossing. There was a south bell tower. The front facade was an unbroken
rectangle, the tower being in effect a cupola set on the southeast corner of the roof. The base was octagonal as were
the walls, which were pierced with round arch openings. The roof was an octagonal pyramid set on an off-set octagonal
base and capped by a small lantern. All of the walls were plain and without ornamentation. The only decoration was
alloted to a rather simple doorway with its round-arch opening and heavy molded entablature above it. A low stuccoed
wall surrounded the property.
The baptismal font, believed to be a gift from Charles III, who became King of Spain from 1759, is the oldest piece of
liturgical furnishing in the cathedral.
Joining Old World and New World saints, the congregation chose Our Lady of Candlemas and Nuestra Señora de
Guadalupe as patrons in addition to the town's official patron, San Fernando, or King Fernando III of Spain, who ruled in
the 13th century was canonized in 1671. Our Lady of Candlemas or the Virgin of Candelaria is the patroness of the
Growth of the Church
The church acquired vessels, mission records, and parishioners after the nearby San Antonio de Valero Mission was
secularized in 1793 and the four downriver missions in 1824. The church suffered setbacks in the early nineteenth
century, however; it was damaged by a flood in 1819 and a fire in 1828. Significant rebuilding was carried out in 1829–
30, and the church continued to serve as an important religious and social center. The building was not restored to its
original condition until 1841.
Mexican War of Independence
During the 1810 - 1820 War for Mexican Independence several battles occurred in San Antonio and many of the fallen
soldiers were buried at the church. In 1822, the pastor of the parish, Father Refugio de la Garza, was sent as a
delegate to the first Congress of Mexico.
Role in the Texas Revolution
In 1831, Jim Bowie married Ursula de Veramendi in San Fernando. Ursula Veramendi was the daughter of Don Juan
Martin Veramendi, governor of the province of Texas and vice-governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. Bowie
led the governor's ranging parties against the Comanches, became a Mexican citizen and a Catholic, and married her
on April 23, 1831
Mexican cannons stood on its roof during the siege of Bexar. After that battle the Texans flew a flag of victory from it.
In 1836, the cathedral, still a parish church, played a role in the Battle of the Alamo when Mexican General Antonio
López de Santa Anna hoisted the red flag of "no quarter" from the church's tower, marking the beginning of the siege.
For the State of Texas - Rebuilding
By 1840 the church of San Fernando had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair. Repairs were carried out by the new
church administration that took over that year. Father John M. Odin was sent by the Bishop in New Orleans to take over
the San Antonio church. He replaced two Mexican priests that had been left by Mexico after the Revolution. He wrote
that "It's roof half gone, was the resort of a thousand swallows all day long and a myriad bats at night." The repairs
finally started in March 1841.
Around 11 p.m. on the night of June 16, 1858 a large crash was heard from the direction of the church; upon
investigation it was found that the front quarter of the roof had fallen in taking with it the choir gallery and organ. As
reported by the Herald "...the front part of the roof had fallen crashing the organ to atoms and carrying the (choir)
gallery with it to the ground...no other damage (was) done...On examination it was easy to see that the fall was
occasioned by the rotting of the timbers of the roof, which were probably twenty or thirty years old."
On May 6, 1859, the Herald noted:
"Among the imports, or attempts of import, which we have noticed in our city, is the rejuvenating of the old Catholic
Church. Its gray, monumental walls, were once pleasant to look upon - 'grandeur still contending with decay'...But those
gray old stones have been covered with plaster and whitewashed, repulsing the eye, reflecting in double distilled force
the sultry sunbeams upon the passerby. And within the last few days, its dome and cupola have fallen into the hands of
an artist who is trying the effect of every shade upon them, resembling in variety and display of colors, an Easter Egg.
We patiently await the finale, as this last aggression any reach other parts of the building."
In the middle of restoration preparations for a new San Fernando were noted by the Herald on May 21, 1859: "Imposing
Ceremony - the cornerstone of the Catholic Church, 'San Fernando,' intended to take the place of the old Mexican
edifice, in course of erection by Messrs. Tynan & Tynan, was laid on Sunday evening, at 4:30 o'clock p.m. The
ceremony was solemn and imposing, and was in presence of a large concourse of people. The inscription on the
cornerstone reads as follows: 'Eccel Tabernaculum Dei, Cum Hominbus,' and in the vernacular means, 'Behold, the
Tabernacle or Dwelling place of God with Men!' Inside of the stone the names of all the State officers elected by the
people...as well as all our county officials...and various papers were deposited." This cornerstone was removed and
relaid on September 27, 1868.
All activity was probably ended by the Civil War. Tynan and Tynan were Walter C. and Edward K natives of Kilkenney
County, Ireland who were stone masons. They may have been responsible for planning the church in 1859. They had
made a three page document titled "Calculation of Masonry in the addition to the Church of San Fernando on the Main
Plaza in San Antonio." It was solely additions to the foundation courses.
Extensive renovation was planned in 1851 but not begun until 1868. Under the direction of architect François P. Giraud,
the original bell tower and part of the nave were razed. Giraud's new design included a Gothic Revival nave, triple
entrance portals, a gable roof, and twin bell towers and buttresses. The cornerstone of the church was dated
September 27, 1868. The old front, the heavy tower and the choir and baptistry were torn down. Gothic replaced the
earlier Mission style.
Francois Girauld was a local architect. He was born in 1818 a native of Charleston, South Carolina of parents from
Bordeaux, France. He education began in Emmittsburg, Maryland and later he was trained as an architect at Ecole
Centrals des Arts et Manufactures in Paris receiving a diploma as an engineer. Giraud was the City Engineer from 1849
to 1853 and a surveyor who in 1848 established the boundaries of the old mission lands and in 1852 the boundaries of
the city of San Antonio. He was also the architect of the San Antonio Ursuline Academy and old St. Mary's church and
St. Mary's college. He would also become the mayor of San Antonio from 1872-1875. He died on May 8, 1877.
Patrick Walsh was the masonry contractor. Thomas Carmichael was the plaster contractor. Edward Kurha was the paint
contractor with Leroux and Cosgrove as the roofing contractors.
On January 31, 1870 the Herald noted: "Beautiful & Substantial - The Catholic Cathedral now in construction on Main
Plaza will be, when completed, an ornament to our city & an enduring monument to the liberality & energy of the
Catholics who contributed the money to build it. It will probably be the largest & finest Cathedral in the State. For the
beauty & grandeur in the front of the bldg. Mr. Welch (sic) should receive the praise, and for the other part of the work,
Mr. Tynan deserves the credit, we are not speaking of those who plan, but those who execute the work."
In April 1872 the original dome was destroyed and the front of the Church was razed July 3, 1873. On August 10-15,
1872 a Fair was held to raise funds to finish the Cathedral. By 1873 the old dirt floor and most of the limestone rubble
walls mortared with goat milk were gone. On October 6, 1873 the church was consecrated. The carved stone Stations of
the Cross were added in 1874, that same year the church was made a Cathedral.
The new church was much wider than the old one, the walls were erected over the old ones, retaining the use of the old
church. The church was not finished in 1872 The interior walls, although plastered, were left "neatly tinted, and ready for
imitation frescoing should that be determined upon." On the exterior the south tower was completed only to the base of
the belfry, and small decorative details were left unfinished. It was reported at the time that it was the intent of the design
that both towers were to be identical in appearance and capped by wooden spires twenty-five feet high. It was also
intended to eventually raze the remainder of the old church, the transept crossing and apse would "give place to
The Daily Herald reported on the consecration of San Fernando Cathedral:
"The quaint and antique structure that a few years ago stood between the two Plazas has almost entirely disappeared. It
has served its purpose from 1788 as a place consecrated to religion, but it has given place to a larger and statelier
edifice, in size better adapted to the accommodation of the increased population in our immediate vicinity, in architecture
more in keeping with the tastes of the age in which we live. and yet, the voiceless old church of San Fernando and its
companions, the several missions below us on the river, have all their stories to relate and are mute but incontestable
chroniclers of history. They tell us of a period when the section of country we now inhabit was so densely populated that
they needed all these places for the practice of their devotions, they tell us of the Spanish priests who came, at every
hazard, among the aborigines to unfold to the mysteries of religion, and they attest what must have been the result of
their influence, their example and their eloquence. Their very architecture and defaced decorations will serve to remind
the progressionist that perhaps mankind has not made such tremendous leaps in either the arts or the sciences as he
has been disposed to concede without question.
The ancient records of Texas tell us that the subject of the construction of the old edifice was first considered in the
Royal Presidio of San Antonio de Bexar, February 17, 1738. Don Prudencio de Orobio Barterra being Governor and
Captain General of the State of Texas, and Don Juan Rezio de Leon being Curate, Vicar and Ecclesiastic Justice of the
town of San Fernando (without the Presidio of San Antonio). It was resolved that this Parish Church should be erected
under the invocation of the Virgin and our Lady Guadalupe. Many names, which are to this day well known in San
Antonio, appear in the list of contributors to the construction, among which we may mention those of Leal, Rodriguez
The old structure had served its purpose long and well, and it was not without pangs of regret that those to whom it had
become endeared learned that it had been doomed to demolition. Only a portion of the old chapel now remains to
remind us of it., and in a few years, when the ultimate intentions of those in charge of the edifice shall have been carried
out, that, too, will give place to modern architecture.
The foundation of the new structure was laid in 1868, the corner stone on the 27th of September of the same year.
The plans, drawings and specifications were furnished by the Hon. F. Giruad, now Mayor of San Antonio. The contract
for masonry was awarded to Mr. Patrick Walsh, who carried the work to its present advanced state toward completion.
The plastering was done by Mr. Thomas Carmichael, who has left the walls neatly tinted, and ready for imitation
frescoing should that be determined upon. The painting was done by Edward Kurka, and the roofing (tin both above and
below the sheathing) was done by Leroux & Cosgrove. The two towers will be identical in appearance, and will be
finished with wood twenty five feet higher than the one on which the masonry work has been already completed. The
masonry between the towers will be carried twelve feet higher and will be very ornamental.
...The Consecration took place (yesterday) at 8-1/2 A.M. Immediately before Mass. The Cathedral was blessed and
sprinkled with holy water, inside and outside, in the presence of an immense concourse of spectators. During the
ceremonies a sermon was preached in Spanish by Rev. Father Artola, from Mexico. He dwelt with earnestness upon the
sanctity that invested the structure as the house of God, and the reverence that should characterize those who visited it.
He was followed by Father Johnston, in English, who most eloquently referred to the fact that the Church had been built
on hallowed ground, eminently Catholic and per-eminently Spanish, and that the finest site in San Antonio had been
given to the service of God. He paid a glowing tribute to those pioneers of Christianity who first planted its banners in
Texas and erected the old structure, and said that the present noble edifice was a credit to the present generation in
San Antonio, and that it was poetry of life - that fired the hearts of the early missionaries who had come to this country.
He said that all nationalities could assemble under its roof, and that a feeling per-eminently Catholic would actuate those
most interested in San Fernando. We regret that we have not space enough to do better justice to the remarks of
In the afternoon the vespers were sung, after which was the Benediction.
The church, though far from being completed, will henceforth be open for services."
Named a Cathedral and the first Bishop
San Antonio was made a diocese by Pope Pius IX in a decree "Arcano Divinae Providentiae" on August 27,1874 with
San Fernando as its' cathedral. Anthony Dominic Pellicer 's appointment as the first Bishop of San Antonio was made
public on September 2, 1874. Bishop Anthony Dominic Pellicer arrived on December 23, 1874 and was installed in San
Fernando Cathedral on December 27, 1874.
Pellicer was born in St. Augustine Florida on December 7, 1824 to Francisco and Margarita Pellicer. His mother died in
child birth. He was raised in St. Augustine by Pedro and Maria Manucy. He had been educated at Bishop Portier's
school at Spring Hill in Alabama. His nickname was "Neco." Pellicer was ordained by Bishop Portier on the Feast of the
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven on August 15, 1850 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
of Mary at Mobile. During the was Father Pellicer was commissioned as an official chaplain by the Confederacy in 1862.
Father Pellicer was called to Mobile by Bishop Quinian as in charge of the finances of the diocese and the rector of the
cathedral. Father Pellicer built an orphanage for boys. He was in Mobile when the city was captured by the United States
Navy in 1864.
In San Antonio he moved in with Father Thomas J. Johnston as there was no episcopal residence for him. The new
Bishop sold the chapel and land adjoining the Alamo for 100,000 francs. He built 15 new churches and seven chapels.
His diocese had fifty churches and eight chapels. He opened 25 parochial schools. He had 38 priests of which he had
ordained 10. In 1876 Bishop Pellicer went to Rome to see Pope Pius IX. He laid the foundation of a seminary and was a
patron of Santa Rosa Hospital and St. Joseph's Orphanage. He died on April 14, 1880 from diabetes and was buried
under the head of the main aisle of the Cathedral. His episcopal motto was "In Fide Vivo" (I live in faith.) The second
bishop was Bishop John Claude Neraz.
The second bell tower was not completed until 1902. The spires were never completed. The portions of the old church
are on the interior behind the old altar. The stained glass windows were added in 1920.
The church has a concrete foundation, limestone walls, concrete roof, white plaster, on interior walls and ceilings, and
floors of pine.
The current style is Gothic Revival. The dimensions are 75' x 180' with 30' to eaves. The foundation is masonry and lime
mortar. The walls of the church are ashlar blocks of local cream-colored limestone set in lime mortar. The blocks were
dressed with chisels and the tool marks are still visible. The nave walls are reinforced by stone buttresses located at
each intersecting point of the interior bays. These are rectilinear in section and have two off-sets with corresponding
weatherings, the upper in four overlapping planes, the others of two. Load bearing exterior walls are reinforced with off-
set buttresses. The roof and the clerestory walls are supported by stone piers. The roof system has wood rafters,
painted and exposed, and are reinforced with large wood knees and with struts in the side aisles.
In the 1960s the crossing, transepts, apse, and one or two nave bys of the old church were still standing. The crossing
was spanned by a dome on a drum that was little more than a ring. That dome was replaced by the present one. The old
nave bays now forming the chancel are spanned by tunnel vaults. The nave arcade is composed of octagonal section
stone pillars with cavetto molded capitals and an off-set terrazzo base approximately three feet high, supporting a series
of wide lancet arches.
Where the Defenders of the Alamo are buried
Remains were discovered in 1936 by workmen who were making repairs to the altar at the San Fernando Cathedral.
The Cathedral created a burial tomb of cremated remains of Davy Crockett, William B. Travis, and Jim Bowie and others
from the Alamo. There were skeptics as to their origin. The "remains" at the San Fernando Cathedral were placed in a
new marble coffin and enshrined there at the church. Archbishop, Arthur J. Drossaerts, the cleric who asserted that the
remains were those of the Alamo defenders, stated:
"The rough wooden coffin has moldered into dust, only a few rusty nails survive; a few shreds of military uniforms can
still be recognized; a few crushed skulls and charred bones together with the very charcoal of their funeral pyre in front
of the Alamo and the ashes of their bodies have been gathered by devoted patriotic hands and placed in a temporary
On March 28, 1837 the Telegraph and Texas Register, Columbia, printed over the name of Lt. Col. John [Juan] N.
Seguin, the following detailed account of the military funeral accorded the remains of the martyrs of the Alamo:
"In conformity with an order from the general commanding the army at headquarters, Col. Seguin, with his command
stationed at Bexar, paid his honors of war to the remains of the heroes of the Alamo; the ashes were found in three
places, the two smallest heaps were carefully collected, placed in a coffin neatly covered with black, and having the
names of Travis, Bowie and Crockett, engraved on the inside lid, and carried to Bexar and placed in the parish church,
where the Texan flag, a rifle and a sword were laid upon it for the purpose of being accompanied by the procession,
which was formed at 3 o'clock on the 25th day of February; the honors to be paid were announced in orders of the
evening previous, and by the tolling knell from daybreak to the hour of interment; at 4 o'clock the procession moved
from the church in Bexar, in the following order: "Field officers; staff officers; civil authorities; clergy military not attached
to corps, and others. Mourners and relatives; music; battalion; citizens.
"The procession then passed through the principal street of the city, crossed the river, passed through the principal
avenue on the other side, and halted at the place where the first ashes had been gathered; the coffin was then placed
upon the spot, and three volleys of musketry were discharged by one of the companies; the procession then moved on
to the second spot, whence part of the ashes in the coffin had been taken, where the same honors were paid; the
procession then proceeded to principal spot, and place of interment, where the grave had been prepared, the coffin had
been placed on the principal heap of ashes..." Seguín buried the coffin under a peach tree grove. The spot was not
marked and cannot now be identified
On March 28, 1889, the 83-year-old and sickly Seguin wrote:
"The remains of those who died at the Alamo were ordered burned by Gen. Santana[sic], and the few fractions I ordered
deposited in an urn [lit. the Spanish urna: coffin or casket] ; I ordered a sepulcher opened in the cathedral of San
Antonio immediately at the Presbytery; that is, in front of the railing, but very near the steps..."
July 29 and 30 while the excavations were being made stated:
"Practically all the bones of the three men, confidently believed to have been those of William B. Travis, James Bowie
and David Crockett...reposed in the vault of San Fernando Cathedral Wednesday in two graves about 15 feet behind
the present altar. The bones of the two men were found slightly north of the center of the church and the other bones
came from an excavation a few feet south...."
On September 13, 1987, the cathedral was visited by Pope John Paul II, during the only visit of a pope to Texas. A
marble stone marker commemorates the event. The Cathedral was packed with priests, seminarians and members of
religious orders. He also led an outdoor Mass in San Antonio with more than 350,000.
In 2011, Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller, breaking from the design envisioned for the cathedral restoration, reversed
some of the prior alterations, unveiling a new altar (permanently affixed to the floor closer to the sanctuary and made
from made of stone from Spain, Turkey and Israel); a new traditional bishop's chair or cathedral (crafted of white oak
and resting on an extended sanctuary floor made of tile); relocating the baptismal font from the back of the church back
to the front next to the lectern (opening up space for processions into the church from Main Plaza); and installing a new
railing behind the altar to section off the sanctuary (to prevent people visiting the retablo from straying onto the altar).
The 2011 improvement project was paid for with $150,000 in donations from parishioners and outside donors. As part of
the dedication, the archbishop placed three relics in the altar. There are two relics of St. Anthony of Padua, a Doctor of
the Church and the patron saint of San Antonio; and a third relic is of Venerable Concepcion Cabrera de Armida, also
known as Conchita, who inspired the formation of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit (Archbishop Garcia-Siller was
ordained a priest to the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit in 1984) as well as 16 other spirituality inspired Catholic
Pope John Paul II and St. Toribio Romo remembered
On November 1, 2012, All Saints Day, new statutes were unveiled honoring Pope John Paul II and St. Toribio Romo
Gonzalez. This date was the day of John Paul's ordination to priesthood.
St. Toribio Romo was martyred during the Mexican Revolution. He is considered an advocate for immigrants and
religious liberty. He was born April 16, 1900 in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Jalostotitian Mexico. On Friday February 24,
1928 he was killed by government troops. St. Toribio was killed at age 27. He was a martyr of the Cristero War dying for
being a priest. He is used as an icon by people who provide food, water and money to Mexicans crossing the border in
distress. He was canonized on May 21, 200 by Pope John Paul II. "Lord do not leave me nor permit a day of my life pass
without my saying the Mass, without receiving your embrace in communion." Prayer of Saint Toribio
Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller scattered holy water and incense on them.
The statues were crafted by Iwona Kosciuch born in Gdansk Poland and now living in Chicago.
|Baptismal Font circa 1750s from Spain
|NORTHEAST ELEVATION OF ORIGINAL CHURCH BUILDING (EAST FRONT AND NORTH SIDE).
Adolph Phillip, Photographer (copy of old photo owned by Adolph Phillip) January, 1937
|Historic American Buildings Survey,
Arthur W. Stewart, Photographer March 17, 1936
DETAIL OF EAST ENTRANCE, EAST ELEVATION.
|Historic American Buildings Survey,
Arthur W. Stewart, Photographer March 23, 1936
SOUTHEAST ELEVATION (EAST FRONT AND SOUTH SIDE).
|Anthony Dominic Ambrose Pellicer
1st Bishop of San Antonio
|Virgin of Candelaria, Saint Patron of the Canary Islands
|Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
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