NORTHERN VIRGINIA, March 8, 2011 – This seems to be the year for remembering America’s pivotal domestic wars. This year, 2011, is the first of four years in the Civil War Sesquicentennial and events this past weekend in San Antonio ushered in the 175th anniversary of the Battle of the Alamo that led to Texas independence from Mexico and later statehood.
Prayers in both English and Spanish mingled with musket volleys, as battle re-enactors on Sunday recalled the early morning 90-minute conflict of March 6, 1836 that left nearly 200 defenders of Texas liberty dead including Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and William Travis. A bagpiper’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” ended the service.
But the event did not end a continuing controversy.
After the slaughter that March morning, what happened to the remains of heroes like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and William Travis?
Where Are the Heroes’ Bones?
It’s all focused on the San Fernando Cathedral, just a few blocks from the Alamo. The church played a role in the Battle of the Alamo, when Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna hoisted a flag of “no quarter” from the church tower, marking the onset of the siege. Some say bones of the Alamo defenders are in a cathedral crypt.
Dr. Bruce Winders, historian and curator of The Alamo, said there are conflicting stories about what happened to the remains.
“The person responsible for indicating that the remains of Alamo defenders are inside the stone box – Juan N. Seguin - is the same person who later provided evidence that makes his own claim suspect.” Seguin, he said, was in charge of a detail that returned to San Antonio nearly a year after the battle to recover remains of the Alamo garrison.
“Bodies had been burned at three locations,” Winders said. “In his official report. Seguin wrote that the ashes were collected at the site of funeral pyres, placed in a box, and taken to San Fernando Church (it wasn’t yet a cathedral) for a memorial service. Then the box was buried at the site of the largest fire.”
Years later, Sequin told a different story in his memoirs. He said the wooden box was buried near the cathedral altar. In 1936 - the centennial anniversary of Texas Independence - workmen discovered what they thought were ashes. That’s when church officials reversed their earlier claim that the ashes in the box didn’t belong to Alamo heroes. A stone crypt was made to hold the ashes for all to see.
“Are those the remains of the Alamo men?” said Winders. “Young Juan Seguin said ‘no’ and the old Seguin said ‘yes.’ Until science provides a definitive answer via DNA testing or some other means, it appears that what people see in the cathedral are not the remains of Travis, Bowie and Crockett.”
Visitors may gaze at the crypt and each Sunday, experience the cathedral’s “El Mariachi Mass” – a memorable experience for any denomination faith traveler.
San Antonio’s What Else
The Alamo is the oldest and most famous Spanish colonial mission in San Antonio, built originally in 1724. The walls that remain - the chapel where women and children were housed during the iconic battle - are a small part of the original mission.
Four other missions from the era that were built by the Spanish church to convert native populations also remain. Mission Concepcion is the best preserved, and has an active congregation. Its interior still looks much as it did in the 18th century, with beautiful wall and ceiling paintings.
Only a few steps from the Alamo is the popular River Walk, with its tranquil scenery, shops and restaurants.
San Antonio is a great preservation city, and you can feel its dedication in the historic architecture and culture. Wander the streets of La Villita – the city’s oldest district - then check out the King William neighborhood’s historic homes. Sit at the bar in the Menger Hotel near the Alamo and contemplate some of the personalities who passed through it: Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Mae West, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant to name a few.
Several of San Antonio’s splendid art museums are housed in historic edifices. The San Antonio Museum of Art is one example. It’s walls used to hold a brewery.
To learn more about the Alamo anniversary year events and travel packages, go here. The Alamo story is part of America’s faith and freedom history, so this might be the year to explore its location, one of the nation’s most colorful cities.
Read more of Ruth Hill’s faith travel columns at Washington Times Communities, Contemporary Christian Travel.
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