Iglesia San Juan Bautista Church

Submitted by Larry Kirkpatrick

Texas Historical Marker

Location 401 S. Alamo, San Antonio, voc. in parking circle to plaza San Antonio Hotel

Built in 1810, on Jan. 22, 1811, Captain Juan Bautista De Las Casas recruited forces here for first overthrow of Spanish rule in Texas by arresting Governor, and other high officials. On March 2, 1811, Juan Zambrano led counter revolutionary force, also recurited here, to overthrow Casas Regime, restore Spanish Rule. Early in 1813, province invaded by Republican Army of the North favoring independence from Spain, only to be reconquered that year. Quartel de San Antonio de Bexar apparently destroyed during Texas Revolution as the defenders chose to make their stand at the Alamo. (1967)

San Antonio Express-News

 The bells toll no more
 Landmark church tower lies in heap
 San Antonio Express-News (TX)
 January 15, 2005

 Thick stone walls have been crumbling here for 300 years, but this time, after a heavy rain, the town's church tower, one of its tallest structures, rumbled to  the ground. The collapse one morning last July hurt no  one but sent heaps of limestone blocks, mud mortar and  two heavy bells slamming onto historic ground.

The old Iglesia San Juan Bautista, now a national  monument, has ties to the founding of the Alamo. Its  tower once was a place to peer down on streets that have  been strolled by Spanish soldiers, Indians, missionaries  - even Robert E. Lee, a U.S. Army officer who passed  through town during the Mexican-American War.  The bells, one of which weighs as a much a small pickup,  called the faithful to Mass and tolled every night at 11  p.m. as a reminder that it was time to turn down the
 volume on ranchero music and for kids to go home. Now  the bells sit in a shed near hanging saddles and a pile  of gourds.

 "When they rang, you could hear them three or four miles  away," said Jesus Saucedo Ornelas, the mayor, who was  sporting a curled gray mustache and sipping Tecate beer  on a recent afternoon.
 The town can hear ringing today only figuratively, in   fund-raisers to restore the tower and mount the bells  once more.  Guerrero, originally called Presidio de San Juan  Bautista del Rio Grande del Norte, was for generations  the main jumping-off point for Spanish expeditions north  of the Rio Grande five miles away. It straddled the  Camino Real, the Royal Road that was the region's
major  north-south artery for trade and religion. 

With time, however, Guerrero weathered and hardened into  a fossil - 2,000 people live here today - as the nearby  Mexican towns of Nuevo Laredo and Piedras Negras became  the area's main border crossings.  Missionaries left here in 1718 to found what would later  be known as the Alamo. Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de  Santa Anna and his troops later passed through on their  way to San Antonio on their ultimately unsuccessful  campaign to destroy the Texas rebellion in 1836.  Historian Robert Weddle considers San Antonio Guerrero's  "most noteworthy offspring."  "While the child has prospered, however, the parent has  faded into oblivion," Weddle wrote in his 1968 book,  "San Juan Bautista, Gateway to Spanish Texas."  Aware of the destruction of the church tower, Weddle,  83, said by telephone from his home in Bonham that he  remembers deeply worn steps leading up to the bells. He  said he hopes the tower is rebuilt in its original style.

 "It's important to maintain that heritage as much as  possible both from a historical and architectural  standpoint," Weddle said.  The church was built for the presidio's Spanish soldiers
 and their families. Construction started in 1701 and  took about 60 years, said Enrique Cervera Rodriguez, the  town historian. The tower was added later - exactly when  is a mystery, he said.
 The year 1851, believed to be the town's 150th  anniversary, is scratched into the bigger bell.  "Since it fell, the community has come closer to the  church," said Zulema Guevara, 17, helping corral a bunch  of well-behaved kids during a recent celebration of the  Feast of the Three Kings in the church courtyard.  "Everyone is coming together to help so that it's built  back the way it was as fast as possible."  Townspeople donated goats and horses for a raffle.  They've held rodeos. Over the holidays they held a dance  for $30 per couple that was headlined by the band Los  Montaneses del Alamo.

It was a night not to be missed. People came in heels,  big hats and warm coats, just a block from the tower  rubble behind a wire fence.  Antonio Castillon Saucedo, president of a fund-raising
 committee, said the dance brought in $5,000, but much  more is needed. He said an insurance payment is stalled  in bureaucracy.  Insurance should cover the restoration because it's a
 national monument, said Francisco Martinez, an architect  in Saltillo with the National Institute of
Anthropology  and History who is in charge of the restoration. The  restoration will cost about $70,000, he said.  "This type of work requires artistic skill," he said,  adding that construction could begin as soon as February.  Castillon said any extra money would be used for other  projects, like fixing a leaky roof and decorating the  church interior, which is lit by bare fluorescent bulbs
 and has little adornment.

 1. Schoolchildren enjoy treats after a recent Feast of   the Three Kings at the entranceway to Iglesia San Juan Bautista in Guerrero, Mexico.
 2. A wire fence encircling the historic San Juan  Bautista Church keeps people away from the rubble of the  bell tower. Heavy rains brought down the tower last  year. The town is holding fund-raisers that, combined  with insurance, should cover the $70,000 restoration  cost.
 3. Jesus Saucedo Ornelas, mayor of Guerrero, population  2,000, says when they rang, the bells could be heard  from three or four miles.
 4. The wooden stairs to the bell tower lie in a heap.  Reconstruction could start as early as next month. Any  money left after the tower's fixed would be used for  roof repairs and interior church decor.
 5. A girl hits a pinata during a Three Kings Day  celebration at Iglesia San Juan Bautista in Guerrero,
 Mexico. Guerrero, originally called Presidio de San Juan  Bautista del Rio Grande del Norte, was once the starting  point for Spanish expeditions north of the Rio Grande.
 6. Guerrero (Map)  1-5. PHOTO: PHOTOS BY BOB OWEN/STAFF
 Edition: Metro
 Section: Religion
 Page: 7B
 Index Terms: Feature
 Dateline: GUERRERO, Mexico
 Copyright 2005 San Antonio Express-News
 Record Number: 770333

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