Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-29-2022


The effects of Bourbon reforms on mission architecture of the northern frontier of New Spain have not been examined in the surprisingly limited historiography of the San Antonio, Texas missions. The few existing architectural studies overlook major structural and developmental changes at the missions. Using the construction history of Mission San Francisco de la Espada, I argue that most of these changes are the result of the application of the Bourbon-revised mission administrative method, the método nuevo, made possible by the Patronato Real Universal of 1753 that gave the King of Spain temporal control over the Catholic Church within the Spanish Empire. In Texas, the método nuevo instituted new mission structural goals intended to improve mission defenses, reduce the cost and complexity of mission structures, move the missions toward secularization, and provide housing for salaried vecinos who replaced some of the declining Native American population. The number of houses at Espada was doubled in the 1780s, in contrast to the standard historical narrative that the missions deteriorated and failed in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Episodes of construction at Espada indicate that projects designed and directed by the maestros were only those requiring arches, vaults, or domes. Most of the structures built were simple trabeated buildings, an ancient and still ongoing tradition where inexpensive housing may be needed in the Americas, the coastal areas of the Mediterranean, and elsewhere. These structures were designed and their construction directed by the Franciscans or their mayordomos as part of the application of the método nuevo. The recognition of these and other episodes of redesign and construction at Espada give us a new understanding of the effects of Bourbon reforms on the architecture of the San Antonio missions and their changes to the mission goals and intents on the northern frontier.

Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Ray Hernandez Duran

Second Committee Member

Aaron Fry

Third Committee Member

Justine Andrews

Fourth Committee Member

Clara Bargellini