San Fernando Cathedral
San Fernando Cathedral is an old Roman Catholic Church cathedral in San Antonio, Texas. The cathedral is one of the oldest in the U.S. and the headquarters of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Antonio.
Locals believe the ghosts of generations of people buried on the premises of the centuries-old cathedral haunt it. Among such are the ghosts of the Texan defenders of the Alamo.
The San Fernando Cathedral plays a central role in the religious services, ceremonies, and festivities of the Catholic Church in the San Antonio area. Every year, thousands of people attend church events there. The events include masses, Fiesta Week, baptismal rituals, funerals, easter ceremonies, and Christmas festivities.
The cathedral is on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.
Settlers from the Canary Islands founded the San Fernando Cathedral
Settlers from the Canary Islands, assisted by the Spanish colonial troops stationed at the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, built the San Fernando Cathedral in March 1731.
King Phillip V of Spain invited the settlers from the Canary Islands. Philip wanted the islanders to settle in the San Antonio area to pre-empt the French, who also wanted to claim the territory.
The settlers were 15 families, making up 55 individuals (University of Arizona/Open Arizona). They founded the Fernando Cathedral on March 9, 1731.
[Note: The Presidio San Antonio de Béxar was a Spanish colonial fort built in 1718 by soldiers under the supervision of Martín de Alarcón. They built the fort near the San Antonio River in present-day San Antonio to protect the nearby Mission San Antonio de Valero.]
The settlers named the cathedral after the 13th-century Spanish monarch Ferdinand III of Castile (c. 1201-1252).
The cathedral is across the street from San Antonio’s Main Plaza. It is the oldest standing church building in Texas, nearly 300 years old. It also hosts some of the oldest liturgical artifacts in the U.S., including the baptismal font, reportedly donated by King Charles III of Spain (1716-1788).
San Fernando Cathedral dominated religious and spiritual life for many years. Before Texas gained independence, the Mexican government only recognized the Catholic Church. Thus, San Fernando Cathedral served as the center of religious life for Christians of other denominations.
The Lipan Apache
One of the challenges early settlers in the San Antonio area faced was the threat of the Lipan Apache native to the region.
The Apaches raided the settler communities, and the local Spanish garrison was too small to protect them. The raids intensified in the 1740s.
An epidemic of smallpox and measles also broke out among the “mission Indians” (or “missionized Indians”) in 1739. The “mission Indians” were Native American converts to Catholicism who became allied with the Spanish settlers.
They fled the area in droves to escape the smallpox and measle epidemic, leaving the settlers exposed to attacks by the hostile Apaches. However, when 400 Apaches attacked the Presidio San Antonio de Béxar on June 30, 1745, about a hundred armed “mission Indians” from the nearby Mission San Antonio de Valero rushed to their aid.
A peace settlement between the Apache and the settlers
The settlers eventually negotiated a peace settlement with the Apache in 1749. The parties ratified the peace agreement at the plaza (public square) of the Villa de San Fernando de Béxar (the first Spanish civil government in Texas) in front of the San Fernando Cathedral.
The Apaches reportedly signified their commitment to the peace deal by digging a hole in the plaza (public square) and burying their weapons and a live white stallion there.
However, the peace deal only gave the Apaches the opportunity they needed to devote all their resources to fighting their traditional enemies, the Comanche. In 1757, the Spanish established the Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá west of San Antonio for the Apache. The mission served as a military base for the Apache in their wars with the Comanches.
However, the smallpox and measles the Apache contracted from the settlers depleted their numbers. It left them weakened and vulnerable to attacks by the warlike Comanches. The Comanches eventually prevailed, and on March 16, 1758, a confederacy of Native Americans led by the Comanche destroyed the Apache-Spanish mission.
Following the destruction of the Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá, the surviving Apaches resumed their depredating raids against settler communities around San Antonio.
James Bowie’s wedding to Maria Ursula de Veramendi
The San Fernando Cathedral was the site of many historic events, including the April 25, 1831, wedding of the 19th-century slave trader and soldier James Bowie (1796-1836) to Maria Ursula de Veramendi.
Maria Ursula was the daughter of the wealthy Juan Martín de Veramendi, vice governor of Coahuila y Tejas.
[Note: Coahuila y Tejas (the Free and Sovereign State of Coahuila and Texas) was one of the United Mexican States (The First Mexican Republic) established in 1824. It lasted until 1835.]
Bowie lost his family to a cholera epidemic soon after his storied wedding to Maria Ursula. He died a broken man in 1836 at the legendary Battle of the Alamo.
The Battle of the Alamo
The San Fernando Cathedral played a role in the Battle of the Alamo (February-March 1836).
General Antonio López de Santa Anna signaled the commencement of the 13-day siege on February 23 by raising the blood-red “no quarter” flag on the church’s tower.
According to legend, the Texians interred the ashes of the Alamo defenders in the San Fernando Cathedral. But some historians have questioned the claim.
Pope John Paul II
Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in September 1987 during his official visit to Texas.
The San Fernando Cathedral has undergone multiple renovations since the mid-1700s. Architect Francois P. Giraud supervised one of the earliest renovations in 1868, introducing Gothic architectural style to the structure.
Additions to the cathedral in 1874 include the stone structures of the Stations of the Cross. Refurbishing in 1920 added the church’s stained glass windows. The church underwent restoration in 2003 and renovation in 2011, costing several millions.
Locals believe the spirits of generations of people (and animals) who participated in historical events centered around the cathedral haunt the place.
The ghost of the white stallion
When the Apaches made peace with the Spaniards in 1749, they ratified it by burying their traditional implements of war (bows, arrows, axes, and daggers) in the public square (plaza) that served the first Spanish civil government in Texas (Villa de San Fernando de Béxar).
The Apaches also buried a live pure white stallion, signifying peace. The burial spot was in front of the San Fernando Cathedral.
Being buried alive must have been a traumatic experience for the horse. According to legend, the unfortunate stallion haunts the cathedral, reliving the nightmarish experience of the last moments of its life.
People have allegedly reported seeing the horse galloping in the cathedral precincts at night, sometimes rearing up on its hind legs and neighing.
Strange occurrences and sightings
The church allowed people to bury their dead in the cathedral precincts. They even allowed some church officials, citizens, and residents inside the church.
The spirit of the dead haunts the cathedral, according to local lore.
Some people reported experiencing paranormal activity in the church. Some claimed to have seen bright objects floating in the dark around the cathedral. Locals believed the objects were angels, but others said they were the spirits of people buried on church grounds.
The ghosts of the Alamo defenders
Legend claims that the Texians interred the remains of the men who died fighting bravely in defense of the Alamo Mission in San Fernando Cathedral.
Some historians contest the claim that the Texians buried the ashes of the Alamo defenders in the church. However, locals reported that in the 1930s, renovation workers unearthed containers holding what appeared to be human remains. The people believed the remains were those of the heroic defenders.
The Mexicans had piled the bodies of the Alamo defenders and burned them on pyres. Folklore claims that after the Texians defeated the Mexicans and won their independence, they returned to the Alamo Mission, recovered the bodies, and buried them in the church.
The Alamo defenders were not the only fallen heroes buried in the San Fernando Cathedral. Some claim that soldiers killed in the Battle of Rosillo Creek in March 1813 also found a resting place in the church precincts.
The Battle of Rosillo Creek was a bloody conflict between the Northern Republican Army and Spanish royalists. It ended in the fall of San Antonio and the proclamation of the Republic of Texas.
Legend claims that the spirits of the Alamo defenders remain active and restless today. Visitors reported sighting the ghosts of the long-dead soldiers.
The Man in Black
Other spectral entities visitors have reportedly seen in the San Fernando Cathedral include the specter of a man dressed in black and apparitions of catholic priests and monks who provided service in the cathedral since founded in the 1700s.
There are also reports of strange occurrences during the annual Halloween season.
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Top image courtesy of Daniel Schwen is used under Creative Commons license CC BY 4.0.
|Cathedral of Our Lady of Candelaria and Guadalupe, Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe
|115 Main Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205
|Haunting, Poltergeist, Shadow Figures
Where to find
In the media
https://sfcathedral.org/, “Welcome to San Fernando Cathedral,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://sfcathedral.org/our-history, “San Fernando Cathedral: Our History,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://ghostcitytours.com/san-antonio/haunted-places/san-fernando-cathedral/, “The Ghosts of San Fernando Cathedral,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifacts/silver-spoons, “Bowie family’s silver spoon,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://open.uapress.arizona.edu/read/the-presidio-and-militia-volume2-part2/section/b4b803ab-3643-483e-b463-239b18642b60, “New Mission Expansion and Meeting the Apache Threat (1730-1758),” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://officialalamo.medium.com/spanish-apache-relations-in-early-san-antonio-1f3daa764f1f, “Spanish-Apache Relations in Early San Antonio,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/rosillo-battle-of#:~:text=The%20battle%20of%20Rosillo%2C%20known,Antonio%20in%20southern%20Bexar%20County., “Battle of Rosillo,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://www.mysanantonio.com/lifestyle/article/is-san-fernando-cathedral-in-san-antonio-haunted-16318967.php, “I visited San Antonio’s San Fernando Cathedral, the oldest church in Texas, to meet a ghost,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
https://www.rjaghosttours.com/san-antonio-ghost-tours-ghosts-of-the-san-fernando-cathedral, “San Antonio Ghost Tours: Ghosts of the San Fernando Cathedral,” accessed on April 28, 2023.
Last modified on June 29th, 2023 at 4:40 pm