This week we spoke about the huge mission bell in the Spanish Colonial Gallery and its significance in the mission system which spanned across the Southwestern United States.
Mission bells were cast in two bronze parts – the ‘core’ inner mold and the ‘cope’ outer mold. The method of production led to each bell having distinctly identifiable sections. These bells were used to keep new Native American converts on a tight schedule, the same one that the Spanish missionaries and priests followed, thereby making them more Spanish in nature. The mission bell in the museum, pictured above, is inscribed with two bands: the first inscription below the shoulder of the bell translates to “Saint Julian, Pray for Us” and the second placed a bit higher, with words roughly translating to “Made by Bals Roman in Málaga [Spain], 1749.”
Let’s zoom out and talk about the mission system. The Catholic Church and Spanish royals wanted to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, and they needed an organized colonial system and [ideally free] labor to extract the resources they discovered. Thus, the Church and government worked together to create a system of missions from California all the way to East Texas, most of which were built by the Native Americans who lived in them. These missions were supported by presidios, or fortified outposts, along the northern frontier of New Spain. Texas was exclusively Franciscan territory – the monastic order founded missions across Texas, where Native Americans were gradually molded and shaped to be more like Spaniards in their way of living.
When you enter The Bryan Museum and take a left from the lobby and you’ll see a long wooden bench preserved from the orphanage. Above this bench are several paintings which provide a window into mission life. These paintings depict the façades of missions such as the Alamo, and show Native Americans toiling in the foreground, often with Spaniards supervising nearby.
While it wasn’t uncommon for missions to be abandoned over time, Spanish colonial authorities initiated a policy called secularization wherein they decommissioned most missions (aha, wordplay!) and placed civil life under secular (non-religious) authorities between the 1790s and 1820s. Church life, which used to be centered around missionary orders, came under the control of the Catholic Diocesan Church. Post-secularization, local populations, the Church, and the government sought to take over mission lands, which were often in prime locations; this is why some mission facilities operate as local parish churches to this day.