My first and only time to visit Tucson happened about 17 years ago. Mikie, a long-time friend, resides in the desert city and spent three days playing tour guide for the hubby and me. He took us to Sabino Canyon, across the border into Nogales, Mexico and introduced me to the ‘used bookstore’. I could have spent the whole day in that store, but with my arms full, an hour sufficed. I fell in love with Tucson and the surrounding area that long weekend. The mountains and desert are beautiful, but what really caught my eye was the San Xavier del Bac Mission.
San Xavier del Bac Mission is a Catholic mission located south of Tucson. Father Eusebio Kino founded the mission in 1692 when Southern Arizona was a part of New Spain. Construction of the present day church began in 1783 after Franciscan missionary Father Juan Bautista Velderran borrowed 7,000 pesos from a Sonoran rancher. Ignacio Gaona was hired as the architect, and building was completed in 1797. With the Mexican independence, the mission became part of Mexico in 1821 and then became part of the United States in 1854 under the Gadsen Purchase. San Xavier was part of the Santa Fe Diocese and later incorporated into the Tucson Diocese when Tucson came into its own existence in 1866.
|San Xavier del Bac Mission|
The mission is constructed of low-fire clay brick, stone, and lime mortar and roofed with masonry vaults. In 1887, an earthquake knocked down the mortuary wall and damaged other areas of the church. Under the guidance of Bishop Henry Granjon, repairs to the church began in 1905. Further restoration had to be done after a lightning strike to the West Tower lantern in 1939.
While the exterior of San Xavier is grand, the interior is stunning. Artwork and sculptures adorn every available space, including the ceiling. After Father Velderrain died, Father Juan Abutista Llorens continued Father Valderrain’s work. He oversaw the painting of the murals and the commissioning of religious sculptures in Old Mexico guild shops brought to the mission on donkeys. Not much is known about the crafting of the building or the artists who painted the murals, except the mission was built by the O’odham tribe and no less than three artists painted the murals.
|Interior of San Xavier|
Today, San Xavier is a National Historical Landmark and also known as The White Dove of the Desert. Thousands of people visit the tranquil grounds each year to learn about its history. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity live in the convent and teach at the school opened by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1872. Worship services are held on a regular basis.
|Exterior of San Xavier|