October 21, 2003
The church you enter today is the 1968 Gothic revivalist cathedral, which just underwent a massive renovation. Three walls of the original church started by the Canary Island settlers still stand today and form the oldest Roman Catholic sanctuary in the United States, making it the oldest continuously active parish in Texas. The graveyard is the site of the earliest marked graves in San Antonio.
The remains of the defenders of the Alamo can be found in this cathedral. After the defeat of the Alamo, the Mexican general, Santa Anna, ordered for all the bodies to be burned. Their remains were buried beneath the altar of San Fernando and were unearthed during the renovation of 1936. A large marble sarcophagus with the remains now sits in the left entrance to the church.
A visit to the church is worthwhile for a look at all the religious artwork. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Statue was installed at the front lefthand side of San Fernando in the early part of the 20th century. It honors the patroness of the Claretian missionaries who served the cathedral at the time.
El Cristo Negro, hanging above prayer candles in the back of the church, is a replica of the Black Christ from Esquipulas, Guatemala and is a popular devotional shrine in the church. It was brought to San Fernando during the political unrest in Central America in the 1980s. People leave candles, pictures, notes, and "milagros" as a way to petition God for help or to give thanks for a favor received.
As in most churches, the altar is the highlight of the artworks, and the same is true at San Fernando Cathedral. The "Jesus Christ, Word and Sacrament" Retablo is an 18th-century-style retablo which was designed and created in 2002 by Leonardo Soto Recendiz in Mexico City. Gilded in 24-karat gold and measuring 24 feet by 16 feet, it serves as a backdrop for the tabernacle and statues of the four evangelists and Christ on the cross. It and the two minor retablos replace the original three retablos of the old San Fernando, which were lost in the great fire of 1828.
There are many other wonderful statues throughout the cathedral as well, but my favorite pieces are the Stations of the Cross hanging under stained-glass windows up and down the side isles of the church. These were placed in the church in 1874, are carved out of stone, and depict scenes of the Passion and Death of Christ.
From journal San Antonio: Historic Attractions