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
Author: Jesse Bogan; EXPRESS-NEWS BORDER BUREAU
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
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
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
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
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
6. GRAPHIC: EXPRESS-NEWS GRAPHIC
Index Terms: Feature
Dateline: GUERRERO, Mexico
Copyright 2005 San Antonio Express-News
Record Number: 770333
Article Bookmark(OpenURL Compliant): The bells toll no more Landmark church tower lies in heap (San Antonio Express-News (TX), January 15, 2005)