Continuing our investigation of missions in the Sonoran desert, we visited the only remaining intact mission in Arizona. It’s an imposing white-washed structure in the distance along I-19, approximately nine miles south of downtown Tucson.
Mission San Xavier Del Bac stands as an iconic building of the southwest, and one of the two remaining missions in Arizona established by Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. The other is Mission San José de Tumacácori, which we discovered during our recent visit to Tubac, AZ.
This church dates from the late 1700’s, when southern Arizona was part of New Spain. In 1783, Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain was able to begin construction on the structure using money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O’odham Native Americans to build the original church.
Fast forward to today, the mission is still an active parish serving the needs of the local Wa:k (San Xavier District) village, which resides on the Tohono O’odham reservation.
On our visit we joined a one-hour guided tour and learned a lot about the Mission’s history and architectural details. Our docent talked about features of the Baroque architecture style, including playful dramatic elements such as theatrical curtain displays, faux doors, marbling, and the overall sense of balance.
We were in awe the moment we stepped into the church – it was like no other we had seen before. Looking around, we felt like we’d stepped back in time, transported to an authentic 18th Century space.
The church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.
The interior was covered floor to ceiling with elaborately-painted and sculpted surfaces, and our necks were aching from looking up so much during the tour. It contained numerous references to the Franciscan cord, both on the facade and throughout the church.
The shell, a symbol of pilgrimage acknowledging the patron saint of Spain, is replicated throughout the structure – in window treatments, the sanctuary, the facade and on other details within the interior.
Thanks to a group of concerned citizens called the Patronato, the ongoing restoration and preservation work was impressive. In a five-year program, an international team of conservators cleaned, removed, repainted and repaired the interior paintings and art sculptures. The interior rescue effort has significantly helped to preserve its original features.
Not only was this beautiful place recognized as a U.S. National Landmark in 1963, it continues its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of residents of the San Xavier Reservation. I came back and attended a Sunday service and discovered a different feel when the church was filled with parishioners and visitors.
After the mass I continued my exploration outside and walked around the mission. The church is best appreciated in person, for my pictures cannot capture details of the amazing works of art.
We will love to visit here when we make it to AZ. We loved the missions in San Antonio, TX and will put this one on our todo list for sure. Thanks!
I love that place and ended up attending a Saturday evening mass by chance. A special place, indeed.
Wow, this brought back memories for me. Went there as a little girl with my Grandmother and favorite Aunt. It is as beautiful as I remembered it to be. Thank you for sharing!
In all our travels around Arizona we’ve never visited the mission and after seeing your pictures I’m sorry. What a beautiful place, it seems to glow in the desert sun. Its on my list now for sure, thanks for taking us there with you.
Absolutely stunning! Hubby travels to Mexico on business quite a bit, and this looks so much like many of the cathedrals he has visited, even in some very small towns. Such a rich and beautiful heritage and loved your photos!
I am not a religious person but I sure do appreciate beautiful architecture! That is one gorgeous church especially with the amazing blue AZ sky to set it off! Thank you for taking me back to this beautiful place!
The inside of the mission is gorgeous! So glad they are working to restore the interior. There is so much detail.
Such exquisite artwork inside this church, and the architecture is too gorgeous. Great photos, Mona Liza. 🙂
You captured some beautiful pictures of the mission MonaLisa. Joe and I spent a quiet morning there several years ago.
What a gorgeous, sacred place! Thank you for sharing it with us! Robin, now in NC
A beautiful special place indeed, The White Dove of the Desert.
We made it to that one too! And the Titan Missile Museum, Green Valley, and Sentinel Peak — all in one long day. Details here http://www.ownlessdomore.us/2015/12/07/nine-megatons-of-nuclear-power-once-rested-beneath-your-feet-but-hey-watch-for-rattlesnakes/
I loved that Mission. We spent a couple of hours touring the area. Actually we took one of the tours of the Mission. So interesting. Your photos are super.
The mission looks incredible! You took some fantastic photos of the interior.
What a fantastic post. I have loved all of the missions you have shown but this one is so amazing. Your pictures are really beautiful. I love that it is being so well cared for and is still in use. I must see it and attending a mass must have been so wonderful. What a great day!
The mission is a gem tucked away in the reservation. I did not expect what I saw when I entered it. It is really beautiful and the artwork on the walls are amazing considering that they were done more than a century ago!
So beautiful! I can’t believe we’ve never been there, but I will remedy that on our next visit to Tucson. Whenever we visit a mission or church, I always take time to sit quietly in meditation. Your photos really convey a sense of the beauty and peace of this special place.
Laurel, do stop by if you will be in Tucson someday. This is definitely worth a stop, its amazing inside and I only posted a few pics.
Incredible church, so different from what we’re used to.
Definitely incredible, the restoration was impressive.
This is gorgeous, you really find some gems!
I loved the White Dove of the Desert … a definite return stop to do the tour and spend more time there. Yes, best appreciated in person, but your photos do a great job of capturing its beauty.
Comments are closed.