IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

The History of San Antonio, Texas In a Jaw-Dropping 24-Minute Film

Through lights and sound, San Antonio's rich Indian, Spanish and Western heritage is literally shown on the façade of North America's oldest sanctuary.

SAN ANTONIO, TX -- Choco Gonzalez Meza, who has lived in San Antonio for the past 60 years, loves it so much she’s seen it four times. And she intends to go back because, as she put it, every time she does, “I catch something different."

Gonzalez Meza is referring to “San Antonio | The Saga,” a jaw-dropping, 24-minute film about 300 years of history that paints the towering façade of this city’s iconic San Fernando Cathedral, bathing it in brilliant hues and choreographed surround sound.

A visual feast, it presents a dizzying flurry of kaleidoscopic images -- rain falling, shimmering cave paintings of indigenous ancestors, oil wells rising majestically from the ground, sacred and secular, Indians and the Spanish, natives and colonizers, Dixie, Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, the Mexican Revolution, the Battle of the Alamo and the present day. A sweeping soundtrack infuses the experience – the clap of thunder, a guitar’s Western twang, Indian chants and drums beating, church hymns, Spanish flamenco and the festive accordion heartbeat of the Mexican conjunto sound.

“It’s a feel-good video of what you’ve been a part of,” the 62-year-old Meza told NBC News. "There’s a reason why we’re all here. We’re part of a larger community and our legacy is our family and our culture and the role we play in strengthening family and community.”

It is a mesmerizing history lesson in a magnificent canvas.

The work of internationally renowned artist French artist Xavier de Richemont, “San Antonio | The Saga” chronicles the discovery, settlement and rise of San Antonio against the backdrop of larger, interwoven events. It is splashed across 7,000 square feet of the cathedral’s walls using high-definition projection mapping, which measures longitude and latitude so that the image fits the canvas like a glove.

Two years in the making, it is de Richemont’s first outdoor video art installation in the United States. More than 50,000 people have watched it since its debut in June, including fans of Richemont’s work who come from around the globe just to see the spectacle, said Ashley Quinn, programs manager with the Main Plaza Conservancy. The nonprofit is presenting the art installation with the support of public and private groups, individuals and the City of San Antonio.

“San Antonio|The Saga,” a captivating video art installation on the façade of the San Fernando Cathedral.
“San Antonio|The Saga,” a captivating video art installation on the façade of the San Fernando Cathedral.Ken Erfurth

Founded in 1731, the Cathedral of San Fernando is the oldest operating sanctuary in North America and the oldest standing church building in Texas. Intrinsically linked in Texas’ storied history, it has become the ecumenical, cultural and civic touchstone of the city, the centerpiece of the nearly 300-year-old Main Plaza, one of only four plazas left in the United States and the only one with a cathedral.

“It’s the heart of our city,” Quinn told NBC News.

Indeed, the intent behind the art installation and the Main Plaza Conservancy’s involvement, said Quinn, was to bring people off the city’s famed restaurant-lined River Walk, immensely popular with tourists and locals, and expose them to art.

“It’s a good combination,” Quinn said. “You have the historic cathedral, the historic plaza, a spectacular video and art installation, history and technology. It’s all there.”

The cathedral seems a fitting canvas for a sweeping saga about history. The site for the church was selected in 1731 when the captain of the Presidio of San Antonio laid out a central square for the villa of San Fernando de Bexar, as San Antonio was known then, according to The Handbook of Texas. During the Texas Revolution, Mexican cannons were perched on its roof during the siege of Bexar, and Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna used the church as a lookout and ordered a red flag flown there to signal that the Texans at the Alamo would be given no mercy.

Intrinsically linked in Texas’ storied history, the San Fernando Cathedral has become the ecumenical, cultural and civic touchstone of the city, the centerpiece of the nearly 300-year-old Main Plaza, one of only four plazas left in the U.S. and the only one with a cathedral.

Richemont, whose public art installations can be seen in France, Germany, Spain, Morocco, Mexico and Canada, said he hoped the film reminds South Texans they have much to be proud about.

“If people don’t know about the stories, don’t know their history, they will learn something,” Richemont told Texas Public Radio. “I wish this: They will learn something.”

For Meza, who is a Catholic, the saga and its depiction of interwoven U.S., Mexican and Texas histories led to her own deep reflection. Her ancestors lived in Mexico in what is now Seguin, Texas.The cathedral setting, she said, brought it all together, adding: “It’s like you’re home and you’re learning everything about where you’ve been.”