The Alamo’s Patron Saint

Yes, all you Texans probably know all this already. But the rest of us don’t….

The actual church name of the Alamo was “San Antonio de Valero.” But where is Valero, and who is this St. Anthony?

Valero is a town in Salamanca, in Castile, in Spain. (So we’re talking Isabella’s folks, not Ferdinand’s Aragonese.) Valero’s patron saint is St. Valerius, an early Christian bishop of Zaragoza, Spain. He’s not a Diocletian-times martyr, startlingly enough, but he was a confessor who was taken away from his see; he survived and was able to return home under Galerius’ Edict of Toleration. (The martyr St. Vincent of Zaragoza was his deacon.) He also was one of the Spanish bishops at the synod of Illiberis (later called Elvira). His feast day is January 22, and they have some kind of bullfight in his honor in Valero on January 29; celebrations continue until Candelaria on February 2.

The lands of Valero were under the Zuniga family, who at the time held the title of Marques of Valero. Baltasar Zuñiga y Guzman succeeded to the title when his brother died in the Battle of Buda. His brother Manuel Diego de Zuñiga Sotomayor y Mendoza was the Duke of Bejar, and the dukedom descended to his son; but Valero went to Baltasar.

Baltasar had an important career, and served as Spain’s viceroy in such important territories as the formerly independent kingdoms of Navarre, Spain; Sardinia, Italy; and Mexico. He was involved in rebuilding Florida’s defenses and in sending troops to Florida to defend it from the French. He also supported various Catholic groups in the places where he served, including founding a Capuchin convent in Mexico City (where his heart was eventually buried). For his service, he was eventually made the Duke of Arion by the Spanish monarchy. (Baltasar never married. His sister Manuela inherited his dukedom, so her husband became the next duke. His marquisate was inherited by Maria Leonor de Zuñiga y Zuñiga, who was his cousin.)

In 1718, during his stint as viceroy of Mexico, Baltasar founded the city of San Antonio de Bejar (which today is known as San Antonio, Texas). It was to be named after St. Anthony of Padua, so that he would be its patron saint; so it was founded on June 13th, which was St. Anthony of Padua’s feast day. But it was called “of Bejar” in honor of the Viceroy’s family. Similarly, he funded and founded various missions in Tamaulipas, one of which became known as San Francisco de Valero, after his title and lands.

But he also gave funds for the founding of a little mission in Texas, close to the city of San Antonio, and also named in honor of St. Anthony of Padua (although it was actually dedicated on May 1, 1718). And that’s why the Mision de San Antonio de Valero was called that — for differentiation from the city. The mission served the Xarames tribe.

However, later the mission lands suffered Apache raids that stole all their horses, which pretty much made farming impossible. In 1793, the lands were taken over by the secular government, abandoned, and then were used in 1803 by a military unit for a temporary housing/base area.

The unit was named the “Segunda Compañía Volante de San Carlos de Parras,” and they came from the Álamo de Parras in Coahuila de Zaragoza, Mexico. Texans just called them the “Compañia Álamo,” and so they nicknamed the old mission building “the Alamo.”

(An alamo is a white poplar, back in Spain; in Mexico, it’s a different kind of poplar, or what’s called an “Arizona sycamore.” They’re all part of the plane tree family.)

Anyhow… St. Anthony was and is a very popular saint, because he was a great Franciscan preacher and teacher, but also a great wonderworker. He was Portuguese, from Lisbon, but Spain owned Portugal at various points. So it’s not surprising that the Marquis of Valero would have had a devotion to him, especially since the Franciscans were running most of the Mexican missions.

And yes, Valero gas stations are named after the original name of the Alamo. The Valero gas company was founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1980.

The dukes of Bejar are still going, in Spain; and the current title holder is Pedro de Alcantara Roca de Togores y Salinas, who was made honorary mayor of San Antonio as part of Texas’ outreach to the family. His son, also named Pedro Roca de Togores, was sent to the US to attend St. Mary’s University in San Antonio (he graduated in the class of 1993). His heir will be his only daughter, Cayetana Roca de Togores. The marquisate of Valero is currently vacant; the last marquis died in 2013. The same guy was duke of Arion, and there is a current duke who succeeded him, but I guess he didn’t take the marquisate, for some reason.

So there you go. St. Anthony, pray for us! St. Valerius, pray for us!

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