El Camino de San Antonio is a historical pilgrim route in the United States, walked first by early Franciscan missionaries who arrived in what is now U.S. territory (back then still part of the Spanish empire) in the 17th and 18th centuries. These friars founded the first Spanish Colonial Missions, which would become iconic communities of the American Southwest. San Antonio, Texas, alone has five of these Spanish Colonial Missions still in use today within its city borders. Now, this relatively young (historically speaking) camino has partnered with one of the oldest pilgrimage routes in Christianity – the noted Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James.
Home to the oldest functioning Cathedral in the United States (and of many original Spanish Colonial Missions dating back to the 1700s), El Camino de San Antonio Missions Trailis the only place outside Europe where one can officially begin walking the Camino de Santiago.
Pilgrims who walk the entire pilgrimage route in San Antonio will now receive 30 kilometers credit when walking the Camino Inglés (the famed English Route to Santiago) along the Camino de Santiago, making El Camino de San Antonio part of an official route of the Camino in Spain.
In the unlikely case that you have never heard of it, the Way of St. James (English for the original Castilian Camino de Santiago) is a Catholic tradition dating back to the 9th century. Nowadays, pilgrims travel from all over the world to pay homage to St. James the Evangelist at his burial site in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.
“When you’re on the trail, pilgrims discover more than historic architecture and beautiful artwork. It’s about connection with the origins of the faith here. It’s about renewing your connection with God,” said Rebecca Simmons, Executive Director of El Camino de San Antonio Missions.
Among the stops along the trail are:
- San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest continuously functioning Cathedral in the United States.
- Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, completed in 1755 and the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States.
- Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, known as “Queen of the Missions,” over 300 years old and one the most active parishes in South San Antonio.
- Mission San Juan Capistrano, nestled near the San Antonio river, which provided all the missions with water for their crops through an innovative series of water canals.