About Us » History
San Fernando began March 9, 1731 when fifteen families of fifty-five settlers arrived from the Canary Islands at the Presidio of San Antonio and were welcomed by Captain Juan Antonio de Almazan in the name of King Phillip V of Spain. Their arrival was a result of a recommendation of the Council of the Indies that a permanent civil settlement in the remote territory of Texas be established to prevent possible incursion of the French. Thus began "La Villa de San Fernando."
The First Church
The cornerstone of the church building in the new village was laid in 1738, making it the first parish church in Texas. The patronesses of the church were those of the settlers and soldiers in the area: Nuestra Senora de la Candelaria (Our Lady of Candlemas), a patroness of the Canary Islands, and Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), the patroness of what would later become Mexico. The church was completed in 1749 and the original walls still stand today forming what is now the sanctuary (the area around and behind the altar) of the present church. These walls are the oldest standing structure in the State of Texas. The dome of the original church was the geographic center of the city and the point from which all mileage was calculated to San Antonio.
The Old Spanish Missions
In 1793, the Alamo, Mission San Antonio de Valero, was secularized and closed as a church. Its' people became members of San Fernando. The total population at the time was just over 1,000. The next year the other four missions in the area, San Jose, Concepcion, Espada, and Capistrano were also secularized and their lands divided among the Indians. In 1824 Missions Concepcion, San Jose, and Espada were made a part of the San Fernando parish.
Early 1800's and The Battle of The Alamo
Zebulon Pike visited San Fernando in 1808 as he was leading the exploration of the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. During the 1810 - 1820 War for Mexican Independence several battles occured 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. James Bowie married Ursula de Veramendi at San Fernando in 1831. The Battle of the Alamo in 1836 began after Mexican General Santa Ana raised the flag of "no quarter" from the tower of the church. In the back of the cathedral today there is a sarcophagus or marble coffin on which is inscribed a notice that the remains of the defenders of the Alamo are buried there. Colonel Juan Seguin, who took control of San Antonio after Texas won independence, was purported to have buried the remains under the sanctuary railing of the old church. In 1936, during renovation work, a box of charred bones, nails, and shreds of uniforms was unearthed at that spot. Historians have argued since then about the validity of the claim, but the marble coffin with the remains has been visited by thousands of people since that time.
The cornerstone of the new addition to San Fernando was laid in 1868. The eastern wall, including the original tower, the front of the church, the choir loft and baptistry were torn down to make room for the French Gothic building which is now the main body of the church. This work was completed in 1873 in preparation for the naming of San Antonio as a diocese by Pope Pius IX in 1874 with San Fernando as its' cathedral.
Bishops and Archbishops
The first bishop, Anthony Dominic Pellicer, is buried under the head of the main aisle of the church. In 1926 the Church of San Antonio was named an archdiocese with Arthur Jerome Drossaerts as its first archbishop. San Fernando was blessed as a metropolitan cathedral, or the official church of an archbishop. Former archbishop, José H. Gomez, STD, was installed in 2005.
Pope visits San Fernando
Various church and civic dignitaries have visited the cathedral over its long history. Pope John Paul II prayed and spoke to students in religious formation at San Fernando on September 13, 1987. President Lyndon Johnson visited in 1966. Several Cardinals have presided at liturgy in the church, beginning in 1887 when James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore preached at a solemn High Mass. Since then, presidents, politicians, ambassadors, governors and other leaders have been a part of the history of San Fernando.
San Fernando's living history is its people. Over 5,000 participate at weekend Masses each week of the year. Over 900 baptisms, 100 weddings, 110 funerals, and countless other services are performed each year. Symphonies, concerts, and television specials are but a few of the special events held in the cathedral regularly. Hundreds of people enter the church daily to pray, visit, light a candle, or follow various devotional traditions. Tour Buses arrive constantly. Each person is a part of the story of this magnificent place and a tribute to its enduring presence as the spiritual center of San Antonio.