Mission San Jose was established in 1720 by Fray Antonio Margil de Jesus, at which time it sustained over 300 inhabitants. It quickly became the largest Texas Mission, and was often referred to as the “Queen of the Missions.” (Spanish missions were not churches, but whole communities, with the church at its core.)
Mission San Jose’s inhabitants worked and lived there and completed the complex in 1782. Although the mission stopped operating in 1824, it baptized over 2,000 Indians.
Today, Mission San Jose is still an active parish and holds open mass on Sundays. It is maintained by the National Park Service and has been so well preserved that it shows visitors how missions might have looked over 250 years ago.
Although the church was not the sole function of the missions, it was its focus, and among the most notable features of the structures on site are the church’s carvings and famous “Rose Window,” considered one of the finest pieces of Spanish Colonial ornamentation in the country.
Other notable features of the Mission’s area include the stairway to the church bell tower and choir loft: each of the twenty-five steps was hand-carved from a single live-oak log and constructed without nails or pegs. The grounds also hold a granary supported by flying buttresses, a gristmill, restored defensive walls and living quarters.
In 1941, Mission San Jose was declared a State Historic Site and also a National Historic Site. The restored gristmill is the oldest mill in the state of Texas.