Forgotten frescoes at the Alamo emerge from centuries of grime
By CARMINA DANINI
San Antonio Express-News
SAN ANTONIO - Nearly three centuries after the founding of Mission San Antonio de Valero, the church now known as the
Alamo continues to harbor many secrets.
Among them are frescoes dating to the Spanish Colonial era. Restoration artists Cisi Jary and Pam Rosser are bringing
the works to light.
For four weeks, the two women have been removing decades of grime and whitewash from the walls of the former sacristy,
which is one of two rooms that reopened in February after being closed to the public since the 1970s.
The frescoes , paintings on wet plaster, were discovered that month while Alamo officials were in the room discussing
where to place exhibit cases, Alamo Director Brad Breuer said.
Jary and Rosser, who had been working on a project at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City, were hired by the Daughters of
the Republic of Texas. The two began work Aug. 14.
"I just wanted to scream when we found the flowers and pomegranates," said Jary, half of the mother-daughter team whose
firm, Restoration Associates, also worked on the restoration of the Texas Capitol.
The find is significant because there is no documentation on the interiors of San Antonio's missions, Jary said.
"Most books address the architecture of the missions but not decorative painting, and we've never found anything this old,"
Jary said pomegranates are a design element of the Rose Window at Mission San Jose, largest of the five missions in San
Antonio, and of a niche in that stands a statue of Saint Anne holding the infant Mary.
According to a Catholic priest Jary consulted, pomegranates symbolize renewal and fertility.
The design is stylized and probably the work of Franciscan monks, Jary said.
Franciscan friars established outposts in what now is the southern and western United States for the Spanish crown.
One of those monks, Antonio Olivares, and the Spanish governor, Martin de Alarcon, founded Mission San Antonio de
Valero in May 1718 near San Pedro Springs.
One year later, San Antonio de Valero, oldest of the five missions, was moved to the east bank of the San Antonio River.
The present site in downtown San Antonio was selected in 1724.
Construction of the church that houses the Alamo shrine began in 1756. More than three decades later, San Antonio de
Valero was secularized; that is, it ceased to be used as a mission.
After the 1836 battle of the Alamo, Mexican Gen. Vicente Filisola ordered the structures burned so they no longer could be
used as a fort.
The U.S. Army leased the ruins in 1848 and repaired the buildings. Federal troops departed when the Civil War broke out,
but at the end of the conflict returned to the Alamo and remained until 1877.
The Alamo became state property in 1883. It has been under the custodianship of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas
Tinted lime washes, air conditioning and the lack of insect infestation combined to keep the paintings - and even some
graffiti lower on the walls - intact, Jary said.
The paintings are a special find, said Mary Carmack, Alamo Committee chairwoman.
The work is "a part of the Spanish Colonial era of the Alamo and a puzzle, and it'd be nice to know more about it," Carmack