The beautiful and evocative mission church of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, its granary, and a part of its cloister were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) atop the archaeological remains of the foundations of the eighteenth-century Franciscan mission following plans prepared by Atlee B. and Robert M. Ayres (for the granary) and the National Park Service (the church and school). The buildings sit within the mission's original walled enclosure. This complex represents the preservation ethos of the 1920s and 1930s, best exemplified by Colonial Williamsburg, when romantic reconstruction was considered an appropriate way to “restore” lost historic artifacts, as long as it was carried out with scientific accuracy.
The Mission of Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, established in 1722, was moved to this site in 1749, its third and final site. In the 1790s the Spanish colonial administration of Texas initiated the process of secularizing all missions in the province, which involved redistribution of their property. The secularization of Espíritu Santo was completed in 1830, and after the independence of Texas the mission devolved to the City of Goliad, which during the 1840s and 1850s leased this site first for a Baptist school, then a Presbyterian school. Bishop Jean-Marie Odin, the first vicar apostolic of Texas, described the mission church as a ruin in 1840. Early-twentieth-century photographs show the granary as a precarious-looking assembly of fragments of walls, no longer recognizable as a building.
Goliad County judge J. A. White got the State of Texas to buy the mission site in 1931. Indicative of the ad-hoc approach to historical reconstruction, the CCC provided the laborers; the National Park Service, through a cooperative agreement with the State of Texas, hired and oversaw the archaeologists, historians, architects, and landscape architects who researched the site, designed the reconstructed buildings, and administered construction; and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided construction funding. Samuel C. P. Vosper, Raiford L. Stripling, and Temple Phinney were the park service architects; Richard S. Colley, who would become Corpus Christi's most distinguished twentieth-century architect, was the landscape architect; Eric Reed and Roland Beard the archaeologists; and Charles Rams-dell the historian.
Construction commenced in 1937 and was completed in 1940. The granary, the building that flanks the church to the north, had been reconstructed in an initial phase predating the park service's involvement. In Restoring Texas: Raiford Stripling's Life and Architecture (1985) , Stripling's biographer Michael McCullar quotes him as saying that the granary's east front, centered on an arched bell cote framed by stepped parapets, was more Californian than Texan in appearance. The mission church shares the material and spatial characteristics of the Franciscan mission churches of San Antonio: plastered limestone walls reinforced with exterior buttresses, high-set windows, and vaulted roofs. Subsidiary wings have scalloped parapets similar to those depicted in images of the 1840s and 1850s of Mission Purísima Concepción and Mission San José in San Antonio ( SA84, SA85). Jacinto Quirarte, a historian of Texas Spanish colonial art and architecture, remarked in The Art and Architecture of the Texas Missions (2002) on the extent to which Purísima Concepción, the most intact of the San Antonio missions, seems to have served as a model for the reconstruction of Espíritu Santo, of which no historic images survived.
The reconstructed mission complex is an architectural pastiche. Yet the spatial sensations produced in the cloister that connects the church and granary, as well as inside the mission buildings, and the evocative way in which the reconstructed buildings are integrated with excavated remains of foundations compensate for any questions about authenticity that the reconstruction may raise.