El Paso may not be located deep in the heart of Texas but it is a city with Texas deep in its heart. This westernmost city in the Lone Star State is unquestionably rich in history. A lot of that history was made along an eight mile stretch of road that was a part of the Camino Real.
The Camino Real, or Royal Road, was a major route for transporting trade goods from Mexico City and Chihuahua in the South to Santa Fe and Taos to the North. Three of the oldest mission churches in the country were established along this route on the frontier with Mexico.
The Ysleta Mission is located closest to present-day El Paso. It is the oldest mission in Texas and the second oldest continually active parish in the United States. Established in the heart of Tigua Indian territory in 1680, the original mission was made of cottonwood branches and adobe mud.
Over the years the building was modified, enlarged, and improved — at times because of damage done by fires and floods. Today, the thick adobe-walled building stands as a testimony to the resolve of parishioners to continue to worship and practice their faith.
The Socorro Mission is located a short distance to the southeast of Ysleta and is considered the second oldest mission in Texas. Socorro is the Spanish word for help, relief, or assistance. Completed in 1691 to minister to Spaniards and also to the Piro, Tano, and Jemez Indians, this mission continues to live up to its name.
Through the years, the building suffered many of the same disasters as the Ysleta Mission. And, like the Ysleta community, the folks at Socorro came to the aid of their parish. The building that stands today was built in 1843 and features design inspired by both the Indians and the Spanish. The carved support beams are made of cottonwood and cypress and were salvaged from the original building.
The third mission on the El Paso Mission Trail is the San Elizario Presidio Chapel. In 1789, Spaniards established a presidio or fort to defend the frontier and supply lines. This presidio was named “San Elceario” after the French patron saint of the military, San Elcear. A chapel was built within the presidio walls and bears the same name as the military garrison.
Like the other early mission churches, the architecture of the San Elizario chapel is characterized by the adobe style that has become iconic in the southwest. I love these old structures that have endured for so long and have meant so much to their respective parishioners through the years.
There are lots of great things to do in El Paso, including driving the Mission Trail along Socorro Road. Each of these old missions welcome visitors. So, add this to your list of Texas adventures. You will enjoy learning about the role each of these missions and their parishioners have played through the years in the development of this part of the Lone Star State.