Antonio Margil de Jesús

Antonio Margil de Jesús, early missionary to Texas, was born in Valencia, Spain, on August 18, 1657. His parents, Juan Margil and Esperanza Ros, were poor parishioners of the church of San Juan del Mercado. The parents also had two daughters. Margil attended school, where he demonstrated a peaceful and gentle demeanor and distinguished himself by his abject humility. Even as a boy he referred to himself as "Nothingness Itself," a title consistently used by him in adulthood. In his early teens Margil expressed his desire to become a Franciscan. On April 22, 1673, he received the order's habit at La Corona de Cristo in Valencia. Further education included the study of philosophy and theology. At the age of twenty­five he received Holy Orders and soon accepted the challenge of missionary work in New Spain. He departed Spain on March 4, 1683, and arrived at Veracruz on June 6.

In New Spain Margil was assigned to the missionary College of Santa Cruz de Querétaro, from where he spent several years as a missionary in Yucatán, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. Margil returned to Querétaro in late 1706, then traveled in early 1707 to Zacatecas to found and preside over the missionary College of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Zacatecas. He was to have accompanied the Domingo Ramón expedition of 1716, charged with setting up Franciscan missions in East Texas. However, illness at San Juan Bautista prevented his arrival in East Texas until after the founding of the first four missions. He did not arrive there until July 1716. In 1717 Margil supervised the founding of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores and San Miguel de los Adaes, which with the previously established Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe completed the missions under the control of the Zacatecan Franciscans. During the "Chicken War" of 1719, the six missions and a presidio in East Texas were all abandoned, and the entire Spanish population withdrew to San Antonio. In February of the following year Margil founded at San Antonio the most successful of all Texas missions, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo.

In 1722 he was recalled to Mexico to serve again as guardián of the college he had founded. At the conclusion of his three­year term (1722-25), Margil resumed missionary work in Mexico. He died in Mexico City at the church of San Francisco on August 6, 1726. Arguably the most famous missionary to serve in Texas, Antonio Margil de Jesús remains under consideration for sainthood by the Vatican. His career in Texas was brief but served as an inspiration to his Zacatecan brethren, who assumed control of all Texas missions in 1773.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carlos E. Castañeda, Our Catholic Heritage in Texas (7 vols., Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1936-1958; rpt., New York: Arno, 1976). Donald E. Chipman, Spanish Texas, 1519-1821 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992). Eduardo Enrique Ríos, Life of Fray Antonio Margil, O.F.M., trans. and rev. Benedict Leutenegger (Washington: Academy of American Franciscan History, 1959). Robert S. Weddle, San Juan Bautista: Gateway to Spanish Texas (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968).

Donald E. Chipman

Source: The New Handbook of Texas -- Online
© The Texas State Historical Association, 1997,1998,1999.