Missions of San Antonio Advance in Bid to Become United States’ 23rd World Heritage Site

Missions of San Antonio Advance in Bid to Become United States’ 23rd World Heritage Site

“ICOMOS recommends that the San Antonio Missions . . . be inscribed on the World Heritage List.” With this short but powerful sentence, the San Antonio community announced yesterday that the Missions of San Antonio had cleared an important hurdle on the road towards World Heritage List inscription.

Responding to the announcement, Andrew Potts, Executive Director of the United State National Committee of ICOMOS (US/ICOMOS) said, “While work remains to be done to secure final inscription of the Missions on the List, the ICOMOS recommendation is an important validation of the enormous effort put forth by countless folks in this years-long effort to secure the place of these incomparable heritage resources in the global reckoning of the patrimony of humankind.”

The San Antonio Missions were nominated by the United States to the World Heritage List in January 2014 pursuant to the 1972 Convention concerning the Protection of World Cultural and Natural Heritage (more known as the UNESCO World Heritage Convention). The nomination comprises five frontier mission complexes including the missions Valero (the Alamo), Concepción, San José, San Juan and Espada and associated lands.

Under the Convention, an expert non-governmental body called ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) evaluates all nominations of cultural properties against the basic criterion of “outstanding universal value,” the conditions of authenticity and integrity, whether legal protection is adequate and whether the management processes are satisfactory. As part of its review, ICOMOS organizes a technical evaluation mission that visits the nominated property. The mission report and other factors are then incorporated into a final evaluation report by the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel.

In the case of San Antonio, the Panel’s final evaluation — made available on May 4 –concluded that the San Antonio Missions are an exceptionally complete example of the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize, and defend its empire. The Missions Outstanding Universal Value was said to lie in the testimony they bear to an interweaving of cultures from the European and North American continents, including Spanish and Coahuiltecan culture.

The nomination of the five missions reflected a so-called “serial approach.” Serial nominations can be more complex to put together but this approach was chosen given the close historic and functional relations of the Missions. The ICOMOS report agreed with this logic, noting that the Missions were a “unique example of mission complexes lying in proximity and sharing a common approach to defence.”

The ICOMOS recommendation is the penultimate step in a journey that began in late 2006 headed by the San Antonio Conservation Society to garner international recognition for the Missions. The nomination was prepared over several years with significant support from a number of organizations including: the San Antonio Conservation Society, Los Compadres de San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Bexar County, the City of San Antonio, San Antonio River Authority, National Parks Conservation Association, National Park Service, the Texas General Land Office, and the Archdiocese of San Antonio.

It was in June, 2012 at a US/ICOMOS International Symposium held in San Antonio to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the World Heritage Convention that then Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that he had officially authorized the San Antonio Missions for nomination. Speaking at Mission Concepción, Secretary Salazar said at the time “The missions represent an important – and often overlooked – chapter of our nation’s history.” He added, “It’s important that visitors from around the world know and celebrate the contributions of Latinos to the fabric of America, and these missions help tell that story in a very real way.”

Secretary Salazar promised that the dossier would be completed by the end of 2013, in time for consideration by the World Heritage Committee in 2015. This promise was brought to reality by the hard work of then Assistant Secretary of the Interior Rachel Jacobson and the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs, working in collaboration with the San Antonio Community.

US/ICOMOS wishes to express its respect for the professionalism of the heritage experts in San Antonio and across the United States who played roles in bringing the nomination to this point, as well as to our peers at the UNESCO World Heritage Center and ICOMOS. The latter include Ms. Ángela Rojas Ávalos, a former President of ICOMOS Cuba, who conducted the expert mission; US/ICOMOS Chair Jan C.K. Anderson who aided with the Mission; members of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Shared Built Heritage (ISCSBH) and the International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH) who provided expert review, and the members of the ICOMOS World Heritage Panel under the Chairmanship of Mr. Alfredo Conti of ICOMOS Argentina.

A final decision on inscription of the Missions is expected to be made at the 39th meeting of the World Heritage Committee. The Committee, composed of 21 nations elected on a rotating basis from among the 192 countries that have ratified the Convention, will review the nomination and the ICOMOS recommendation during its upcoming annual session in Bonn, Germany, June 29-July 8. The United States delegation will be led by Ambassador Crystal Nix-Hines, Permanent Representative of the US to UNESCO.

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