By Kelly Wise Valdes
The Cathedral of San Fernando, located in San Antonio is one of the top tourist destinations in Texas as well as the oldest standing church building in the Lone Star State. From the wedding of an Alamo defender to a visit from the Pope, this cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the United States and has become the center of a popular city revitalization project.
The beautiful cathedral is located in downtown San Antonio and originates back to 1731 when 55 settlers arrived in San Antonio to expand the community as a barricade against French invasion.
The cornerstone of the existing structure was laid in 1738, and it has played a key role in the history of San Antonio. The dome of the original church was the point from which all mileage in Texas was originally measured. While the current structure has been expanded and renovated over the years, the walls of the original still form the sanctuary of the cathedral.
The church played a leading role during the 1836 battle for which San Antonio is best known, the siege of the Alamo. It was from the tower of San Fernando Cathedral that General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna ordered the blood red flag of no quarter raised at the beginning of the battle. The banner was a signal to the men inside the Alamo that they would not be spared.
Inside the church today can be found a small coffin that holds the remains of the men who died at the Alamo. Santa Anna had the bodies burned in giant pyres after the battle, and the ashes were collected and buried at San Fernando. A box with the remains was found beneath the sanctuary railing during a renovation project in 1936 and is now enshrined in the cathedral.
The church was expanded between 1868 and 1873 and became a cathedral in 1874 when Pope Pius IX named San Antonio a diocese. It then became an archdiocese in 1926. Over the years, the cathedral has welcomed presidents, governors, senators and an array of other dignitaries. Pope John Paul II visited San Fernando on September 13, 1987, praying and speaking to students.
In 2014, the cathedral became the forefront of revitalization in San Antonio. An explosion of color, light, music and historical images known as, “San Antonio – The Saga” lights up the San Fernando Cathedral every evening. Created by French artist Xavier De Richemont, the 24-minute, $1 million, 7,000-square-foot projection, with custom choreographed imagery and music in surround-sound narrates the historical discovery, settlement and development of San Antonio.
Show times are 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For more information, visit www.mainplaza.org.