White Dove of the Desert - Tucson's Mission San Xavier del Bac

A Part of America's Spanish Colonial Heritage

September 16, 2010

In the southwest corner of the outskirts of Tucson Arizona in the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation, is located one of the area's many tourist attractions, the Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Nicknamed the White Dove of the Desert because of its bright white exterior, the church is considered one of the finest pieces of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States.

San Xavier del Bac is one of many Spanish mission churches found across the American southwest, from Texas to California.

These churches are admired for their antiquity, their beautiful Spanish mission architecture and for their historical significance in the shaping the history of the area and, in some cases, the history of the United States itself.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier in Tucson, Arizona
Mission San Xavier in Tucson, Arizona | Source

Some Mission Churches are Well Known

Some of these old mission churches are well known to the public.

The Mission San Antonio de Valero or The Alamo as it is more commonly known, in San Antonio Texas, is famous as the place where Davy Crockett and his comrades gave their lives in a famous battle of a war that eventually led to independence and statehood for Texas.

Another is San Juan Capistrano located in the city of San Juan Capistrano in California's Orange County which is famous for the the swallows who travel 6,000 miles every year from their winter home in Argentina to San Juan Capistrano arriving on St. Joseph's Day on March 19th.

While these two missions are fairly well known by the general public, there are many others where knowledge of their existence and significance is limited mostly to locals and history buffs.

San Xavier del Bac Remains an Active Church

Tucson's San Xavier del Bac is one of these missions that is known mostly to locals and tourists.

Unlike most of the other remaining mission churches in the American southwest, San Xavier del Bac continues to be an active church whose main focus is meeting its congregation's spiritual needs with daily masses and other spiritual help.

Since it is a church it remains free and open to the public, both for attending Mass and visiting to pray/meditate or view its beautiful, historic interior.

Google Satellite Map View of San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier is 1 of 21 Mission Churches Established by Jesuit Explorer Father Kino

The original mission was established in 1692 by the Italian born Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino (August 10, 1645 – March 15, 1711).

Father Kino played an important role in the development of settlements in what is now the northern Mexican state of Sonora and the southern part of the U.S. state of Arizona. In Father Kino's day these areas were the, mostly unsettled, northern frontier of the Spanish colony of New Spain.

Father Kino was responsible for establishing 21 missions in the northern frontier of New Spain, three of which can still be seen in Southern Arizona. San Xavier del Bac is one of them and the other two are located south of Tucson in the Tumacácori National Historic Park located next to the Tumacácori exit on Interstate 19 in Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

All that remains of the Guevavi mission church are the ruins of the foundation and partial walls. The Tumacácori mission church is fully restored and is operated as a museum by the U.S. National Park Service.

Statute of Father Kino Overlooking Kino Parkway in Tucson, AZ

Statute Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in Tucson, Arizona
Statute Jesuit missionary, Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in Tucson, Arizona | Source

Tumacácori National Historic Park in Southern Arizona

A markerTumacácori National Historic Park Arizona -
Tumacacori National Historical Park, Tumacacori, AZ 85648, USA
[get directions]

Fr Kino's Original Church was Destroyed in Apache Indian Raids

While Father Kino was responsible for establishing the mission settlements and building the first churches on these mission sites, the present churches were built later.

Father Kino's original church at the San Xavier Mission was destroyed by Apache Indian attacks in 1770.

The destruction of the church came a mere two years after the expulsion of the Jesuit Order from Spain's New World Colonies in 1768 (the Jesuits were expelled from Spain in 1767 but the expulsion order did not reach the colonies until 1768).

Following their expulsion, the Jesuits were replaced in the Spanish colonies by missionaries from the Franciscan Order. It was a Franciscan, Father Juan Bautista Velderrain who was assigned to San Xavier del Bac following the expulsion of the Jesuits.

Construction of Present Church Completed in 1797

In 1783 Father Velderrain undertook the task of starting the construction of the present Church to replace the one destroyed by the Apaches. 

Fr. Velderrain financed the project with a 7,000 peso loan from an area rancher.  Construction of the present church was completed in 1797.

Mission Church San Xavier del Bac

View of Ceiling of Dome of the Mission Church San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ
View of Ceiling of Dome of the Mission Church San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ | Source

San Xavier Continues Original Mission of Ministering to the Spiritural Needs of the Native Population

Today the mission church of San Xavier is located about nine miles south of Downtown Tucson, Arizona in the San Xavier district of the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation.

While the times have changed, the mission of San Xavier is basically unchanged since Father Kino built the original church and this is to minister to the spiritual needs of the surrounding Tohono O'odham Indian community.

Mission San Xavier del Bac Main Altar

Main Altar of the Spanish Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ
Main Altar of the Spanish Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ | Source

Statute of Christ

Statute of Suffering Christ in Alcove of the Eighteenth Century Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ
Statute of Suffering Christ in Alcove of the Eighteenth Century Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ | Source

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Altar in Chapel to right of Main Altar in the 18th Century Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ
Altar in Chapel to right of Main Altar in the 18th Century Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, AZ | Source

Model of San Xavier del Bac Mission Complex

Model showing layout of 18th Century Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona
Model showing layout of 18th Century Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona | Source
HubMob Graphic
HubMob Graphic | Source

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Comments 10 comments

liza ann profile image

liza ann 4 years ago from Richmond, VA

I lived in Tucson for six years in the 80's and early 90's. I love the town and surrounding areas. I look forward to reading your other hubs!


ocbill profile image

ocbill 6 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

very nice photos of the interiors. Often the architecture and craftsmanship gets overlooked on long standing structures. great info and worth the trip.

Thanks


megmccormick profile image

megmccormick 6 years ago from Utah

We're lucky to have such history here in Tucson, AZ. Most people are unaware we have missions and churches this old in the United States. Thanks for a great Hub on our "Paloma Blanca del Desierto"


gr82bme profile image

gr82bme 6 years ago from USA

I loved this hub. Well done. Thank you for the pics. Some that some of us will never see.


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 6 years ago from San Francisco

Wow, I've seen a lot of missions, but this one in particular looks really impressive. What a main altar!!


dfelker profile image

dfelker 6 years ago

Very informative; I've been to a lot of the CA missions but now I'll have to add this one to my must see list if I ever get out to Tucson!


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States

Very interesting hub. All of your wonderful pictures added a lot to the story.


bobmnu profile image

bobmnu 6 years ago from Cumberland

Great Hub. I have visited this site and on a bright day it is beautiful against the blue sky. Great Hub


jacobkuttyta profile image

jacobkuttyta 6 years ago from Delhi, India

Very informative hub. thanks


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I saw a documentary about Father Kilo once but this hub helps put him in context.Very well told.

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