with contributions by Dr. James Crisp, Kevin Young & John Bryant
"While going through the Images section I noticed that some of the older sketches and paintings of the church (notably Mary Maverick's and Thomas Falconer's) show the upper niches with statues of Saints still in them. Do we have any idea when they were removed, who removed them, why, and do they still exist somewhere?"
Correspondence to the ADP Staff from John Bryant, February 20001
Trying to answer this question, we realized that John had put his finger on an odd little question with much broader implications. The first several pictures of the Alamo through Falconer's 1841 drawing do show statues in the niches on the facade. After 1841, though, artists show the niches empty of statues. Were these early pictures showing the reality at the time, or were they just placing statues in the niches because that is what was supposed to be in them? If there were statues in the niches, how and when did they get there, and what happened to them?
The evidence indicates that four statues were indeed in the facade of the Alamo in the 1830s, and that two of them were placed there after the closing of mission San Antonio de Valero in 1793. Who added the new statues, and when they did it, remains a puzzle.
The facade of the Alamo was built in two episodes. The first construction was by master mason Hieronymo Ybarra and master sculptor Felipe Santiago, beginning about 1755. The first level of the facade, including two statues (San Francisco and Santo Domingo) placed in the lower niches, was completed about 1758, when the keystone of the main doorway was put in place.2 The carved stonework for the second level was made and assembled by the master mason Dionisio Gonzales, during the years from 1767 to about 1772.3
In 1772, after Gonzales had stopped work on the Alamo church, the second level had been partially assembled and had reached a height of 9 varas (24.7 feet), but the statues of Santa Clara and Santa Margarita de Cortona, to be put in the second level, were unfinished - one of these was almost finished, but the other had not been started yet. The third level was to have a niche containing Nuestra Señora de la Concepción - some of the parts for this level were finished and in storage at the mission, but again, the statue had not been started.4
After 1772, no work of any sort requiring a master mason or master stone carver was carried out at the Alamo. In the secularization inventory of 1793, there were still only two statues on the front of the church, in the two lower niches. The two upper niches were incomplete, awaiting their lateral columns, and contained no statues. The 1793 inventory does not mention any pieces or carved statues in storage awaiting placement.5 With the secularization of the mission and the departure of the missionaries in 1793, the intentions of the original designers ceased having any effect on the buildings.
The Compañía Volante arrived in San Antonio at the end of December, 1802, and was assigned to the Alamo for its barracks. Soon afterward, the mission church was put back into operation, serving the people of the Compañía and the Pueblo de Valero, the local settlement around Alamo Plaza.6 During the period that the Compañía was stationed at the Alamo, some individual or group became interested in the church interested enough to put two new statues on the building.
The drawings and historical records of the late 1830s and early 1840s give us reasonable proof that sometime after 1793, someone purchased or paid for the carving of two santos, San Antonio and San Fernando, and placed them in the upper niches of the church facade. Valero was no longer a mission and no longer had access to the funding base enjoyed by a mission, and the Compañía Volante was unlikely to spend their chronically short funding on statues for the unfinished church the statues were probably acquired by a well-to-do private individual as an act of devotion. This most likely happened between 1803 and 1813, before the disastrous years of the first independence movements, and the lean years that followed leading up to Mexican Independence and the Texas Revolution.
Our earliest reference to the new statues is in the journal of Samuel Maverick, during the Siege of Béxar in late 1835. Maverick says that during the construction of the defenses of the Alamo in October, 1835, "October 13th was the day on which the military broke the figure of San Antonio,"7 apparently meaning the Mexican army troops working on the defenses of the Alamo broke the statue of San Antonio in one of the niches of the facade.8
Documentation of the statues on the facade is more common after Maverick's description. Herman Ehrenberg, for example, mentions the local women coming to pray to the statues on the front of the Alamo in December, 1835, after the siege of Béxar. "The church in the Alamo was not as large as the one in the city and not as pretty either, although traces of its former ornamentation were still visible. In front of the main entrance several high, gray arches were still standing, but it probably would have been dangerous to stand under any of them very long. The exterior of the church was adorned with the statues of several saints carved out of sandstone.9 Every morning the Mexican women came regularly and knelt before these statues without paying any heed whatsoever to the volunteers as they went in and out of the church."10
Mary Maverick, Sam Maverick's wife, painted a watercolor view of the church front supposedly in 1838. She shows statues in all four niches of the facade of the building.11 Susan Schoelwer was perturbed by the presence of these statues. She says that "some aspects of the drawing are . . . puzzling, particularly the placement of figures in all four statuary niches of the church facade . . . eighteenth-century records indicate that . . . two were not installed during the mission period."12 In spite of Schoelwer's doubts, however, Mary Maverick's painting tells us that all four niches contained statues.
Another early drawing, the earliest known view of the Alamo to appear in print, is that published by Francis Moore, Jr. The drawing in Moore, made before 1840, shows no statues however, it is fairly obviously a poor copy of Mary Maverick's painting, and the artist apparently simply left out the statues.13 Next in time was a drawing by William Bissett, made in 1839. The original is lost, but three different copies of it exist. One by V. Chasky14 shows four statues in place, while a second copy, by William Bollaert,15 shows no statues. Bollaert probably left them out because they weren't there when he visited the place in 1843.
View of the Alamo circa 1838 by an unknown artist. Courtesy National Parks Service
Mouseover image to enlarge
George Nelson published a picture by Lysander Well, drawn in 1839. This image also shows statues in all four niches.16 Nelson printed another image dated 1839, an engraving of a picture by an anonymous artist. By coincidence, architects with the National Park Service found the original pencil sketch on which this engraving was based, apparently during research for the reconstruction of the church at La Bahía del Espiritu Santo, near Goliad, in the 1930s, and photostatted it. The photostat is now lost, but a negative of the picture is in the files of the Park Service in Santa Fe. Both the original pencil drawing and the engraving show statues in all four niches of the church.17
The view of the front of the church published by Arthur Ikins in 1841 was apparently "based on firsthand observation," said Schoelwer. The drawing, done probably in the late 1830s, shows all four statues in place, although Schoelwer says they were "reinstalled" by the artist.18
After 1839, the statues began to be mistreated. In 1840-1841, the lower two statues, the original San Francisco and Santo Domingo that had been on the facade since about 1758, were knocked out of their niches. Thomas Falconer, who visited the Alamo on April 22, 1841, indicated that only two statues remained on the front of the church by that date, both in the upper niches. The lower niches were empty, but the two statues that had been in them were still nearby. One was lying "in a stream of water near the building the church & the other was in the workshop of an Englishman who made pipes, vases & various ornaments as remnants of the Alamo ..." Of the two statues still in place in the upper niches, the left one in Falconer's drawing appears to be headless; in his journal Falconer indicated that the two upper statues were "mutilated," but he doesn't say in what way.19
George Kendell, also part of the Texan Santa Fe expedition like Falconer, saw things differently: "the gateway of the church was much ornamented, and still remains, though deprived of the figures which once occupied its niches."20 It appears that he was speaking generally, meaning that some of the statues were gone.
In September,1843, William Bollaert drew a picture of the facade of the church
and said in his journal:
"The images of the saints that occupied the four niches are non-inventus not present. . . on leaving the Alamo we strolled towards the Alameda present Commerce Street, formerly a public walk and in the ruins of a house and in a garden, now choked up with weeds and full of snakes, thereabout found the statue of San Antonio decapitated, that of San Fernando sans nose, an eye picked out and otherwise injured."21
Of the four statues that adorned the facade of the church until 1840-1841,
all but one was lost. The statue of "San Antonio" that Sam Maverick reported
being broken by the Mexican army on October 13, 1835, was probably the headless
statue in the left upper niche shown by Falconer, which probably was the decapitated
"San Antonio" that William Bollaert found by the Alameda. In 1936, a headless
statue thought to be of St. Anthony was given to the Alamo: it had been found
near the Alameda, and must have been the statue seen by Bollaert in 1843. This
statue is now on display outside the entrance to the Long Barracks at the Alamo.22
||San Antonio Light March 27, 1936|
Charles Simmang Holds Statue.
Loot of Mexicans preserved.
click image to enlarge
Statue is Returned
Treasured in a San Antonio household for 150 years, a four and one-half foot dobie rock statue of a monk, dated 1502, came to light Friday when it was restored to its original niche in the Alamo by William F. Freeman. Freeman said the statue, weighing approximately 500 pounds, had been handed down in his family for generations, along with the story of its findings. The story says that Freeman's great-great-great grandfather, a Frenchman named LaBaum, found it on his property between Alamo and Water streets. It had been taken by raiding Mexicans, who obtained other statues. Evidently becoming frightened, they had dropped it and left. A baptismal fount which also came from the Alamo and was obtained in this manner, will be returned to the chapel along with the headless statue.
Courtesy the Alamo & DRT Library
The presence of four statues in the facade of the Alamo church in the late 1830s suggests some broader questions. At some point between 1793 and 1838, the two lower statues in place by the 1760s (San Francisco and Santo Domingo) were joined by the two upper statues, San Fernando and San Antonio. These two statues had to have been placed on the facade between 1793 and 1835, during a time when the unfinished church was no longer a mission.. This indicates that there was somewhat more upkeep and care of the church than we might have suspected during those years. Someone went to the expense and trouble of purchasing or having made a pair of statues for the upper niches as part of the continuing religious tradition of the old church. Badly battered though it is, the surviving "San Antonio" looks fairly competently carved it was not a cheap local amateur carving. Further examination of the surviving Mexican records may pinpoint when this happened, and tell us more about the little-known time during which the Compañía Volante was posted at the Alamo a time that, as a result of this inquiry into the statues of the Alamo, seems richer and more sophisticated than we had thought.
A simple question about why four statues seems to be in some of the earliest pictures of the Alamo church has brought us a long way. By taking note of the odd discrepancy of these statues in a few rather crude drawings of the Alamo made in the late 1830s, we have been able to work out a fairly clear proof that such statues existed, and even get some idea of what happened to them, in spite of the dismissal of this evidence as meaningless by one of the foremost art historians working on Alamo images, Susan Schoelwer. The presence of these statues implies aspects of the life of Alamo Plaza during the early 1800s that we might not otherwise have suspected, and suggests new avenues of research into that period.
1 John Bryant to Alamo de Parras staff, February 17, 2000.
2 B[achillo]r don Juan Ygnacio de Cardenas, Pinilla y Ramos, "Dilig[enci]as del Cura Cardenas contra Travieso," January 19, 1756, microfilm roll 10, frames 5072-5083 Old Spanish Missions Historical Research Library, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas; Mardith Schuetz, "Professional Artisans in the Hispanic Southwest," The Americas 40(July, 1983)1:20.
3 Maestro Dionisio de Jesus Gonzales and Fr. Joséph Lopez, "Obligacion de Dionisio maestro -- La portada." September 27, 1767, microfilm roll 4, frames 5219-20, Old Spanish Missions Historical Research Library, Our Lady of the Lake University, San Antonio, Texas; Fr. Juan José Saenz de Gumiel, Inventory of the Mission San Antonio de Valero: 1772, Benedict Leutenegger, trans. and ed., Special Report 23, Office of the State Archeologist (Austin: Texas Historical Commission, 1977), pp. 7-8.
4 Saenz de Gumiel, Valero: 1772, pp. 7-8.
5 Fr. José Francisco Lopez, "Inventario del Mision de San Antonio de Valero," April 23, 1793, Old Spanish Missions Historical Research Library, microfilm archives, roll 4, frame 5808.
6 Juan Elguezábal, Dec. 29, 1802, Bexar Archives microfilm (BAM), roll 30, frames 947-949; Bachillor Clemente de Arocha and Antonio Cordero, September 27, 1805, BAM 30 33?:643-645.
7 Samuel Maverick, Samuel Maverick, Texan, 1803-1870: A Collection of Letters, Journals and Memoirs, Rena Maverick Green, ed. (San Antonio: Rena Maverick Green, 1952), p. 30, October 17 (note added about incidents on October 13).
8 It is unlikely that the army would have been working in the temporary church in the old sacristy, so this reference probably did not mean one of the santos on the altar there.
9 The word Ehrenberg used is fairly straightforward: "Sandstein." However, this word in German can be both literally translated as "sandstone," and more freely translated as "freestone" that is, "any stone, as sandstone, that can be freely worked or quarried, esp. one that cuts well in all directions without splitting."
10 Louis Brister typescript, p. 51 (page 1 of "Chapter X: San Antonio") NEED LOCATION OF THIS TYPESCRIPT. Ehrenberg wrote these words in 1842, when he composed his memoirs in Germany, but the time he was explicitly describing was late 1835 - he left the Alamo with Grant and most of the other defenders in December (according to his memoirs, on December 30).
11 Susan Prendergast Schoelwer, "The Artist's Alamo: A Reappraisal of Pictorial Evidence, 1836-1850," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 91(April, 1988)4:425; Green, Samuel Maverick, following p. 46.
12 Schoelwer, "Artist's Alamo," p. 426.
13 Schoelwer, "Artist's Alamo," p. 427.
14 Schoelwer gives his name as "Chafsky" in Susan Prendergast Schoelwer and Tom W. Gläser, Alamo Images: Changing Perceptions of a Texas Experience (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1985), p. 44.
15 Schoelwer, Images, p. 45.
16 George Nelson, The Alamo: An Illustrated History, (1st edition; Dry Frio Canyon, Texas: Aldine Press, 1998), p. 55.
17 The engraving is in the collection of the Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Perhaps more information about this picture is in the CAH records. The negative of the pencil drawing is neg. no. 472/60004, in the files of the History Program, Cultural Resources Management Division, Intermountain Regional Office, National Park Service, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
18 Schoelwer, "Artist's Alamo," pp. 430-31
19 Falconer was in San Antonio to join the Texan Santa Fe expedition. Schoelwer, "Artist's Alamo," pp. 431-32.
20 George W. Kendall, Narrative of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition (2 vols.; New York: Harper and Bros., 1844), vol. 1, p. 49
21 William Bollaert, William Bollaert's Texas, W. Eugene Hollon and Ruth Lapham Butler, eds. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956), p. 223.
22 "Alamo Statue is Returned," San Antonio Light, March 27, 1936.