A Shrine to Liberty

The Alamo Church in San Antonio, Texas.

The Church, or "Shrine", has become the most recognizable structure on the Alamo grounds. Originally a Spanish mission church (1755-1793), it later played a vital role in the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. Some traces from the battle still exist but changes to the structure reflect its later role as a U.S. Army Quartermaster Depot warehouse and eventually a memorial to the Alamo defenders.

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Church Walls

Visitors inside Alamo Church

During its original construction, the walls of the Church were never completed, however, the 1771 inventory describes them as being at least as high as the spring line of the stone vault ribs, which were described as being in place. The 1849 Captain Seth Eastman drawing depicts the east, apse wall of the building as somewhat lower than the other walls. A ramp of earth was piled against the inside of this wall in order to place a cannon at that location.

When the U.S. Army occupied the site as a quartermaster's depot, the walls were made level all around in order to accommodate the installation of a roof. At this time, stones were added to the facade to bring the walls on each side of the center section up to level, and to raise the height of the center section to receive the gable end of the roof. Since the west end of the roof was hipped (i.e. it sloped down to meet the wall), not requiring this treatment, one must assume that there was more than a practical reason for this modification. The profile of the building, as a result of this rounded cresting, has become an iconic symbol of the quest for freedom. The Army also added windows along the north, east, and south walls.

When the Army occupation roof was replaced with a concrete barrel vault in 1921, sections of concrete with a rough pebble surface were added to the tops of the walls to create parapets.

Church Roof

Visitors to the Alamo Church look up at its vaulted roof.

In 1772, the Inventory of Mission San Antonio de Valero described the construction progress, and noted that the roof had not yet been constructed and only the stone ribs for the barrel vault were in place. An 1847 drawing of the nave of the Church by Edward Everett depicts only the spring lines of the ribs remaining.

When the building was occupied as a depot by the U.S. Army Quartermasters Corps, the first roof was installed. The roof was wood-framed, gabled, with a hip at the apse, prompting the famous silhouette of the upper facade of the Church.

In 1921, the present concrete barrel-vaulted roof was added by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT). The architect for this construction was Alfred Giles.

In 1996, the flat seamed, lead-coated copper roof over the north rooms was replaced with a similar roof that was attached directly to the concrete deck. That roof was again replaced in 2011 as part of ongoing preservation efforts.