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Mission San Xavier del Bac ~ Photos of National Historic Landmark on Indian Reservation in Tucson, Arizona
Vacationing in Arizona
There are countless places to visit when considering vacationing in the very scenic State of Arizona and after business meetings my husband and I have ventured off in different directions each time to see more of the State outside of the Capitol City of Phoenix.
One year we decided to head in a southerly direction and our primary goal was to see the Saguaro National Park which lies near Tucson and is divided into two distinct areas. Those iconic cactus plants with their outstretched arms were everything that I had expected to see (having seen them in photos for years) and more.
The Sonoran desert landscape containing the saguaros is amazing!
This land area which now includes the City of Tucson was occupied by early peoples (Paleo-Indians) more than 12,000 years ago according to historical evidence.
Hohokam Indians lived there from 600 AD to about 1450.
The Santa Cruz river that used to flow freely on a year round basis (but is mostly dry now) would have been a drawing factor for the Indians who farmed and used irrigation practices to hydrate their crops in this high desert environment.
Located 118 miles (188km) southeast of Phoenix and only 60 miles (98km) north of Mexico, Tucson is surrounded by mountains and sits at an elevation of 2,643 feet (728 meters) above sea level. In this sunny hot and dry climate, precautions should be taken because skin cancer is a perennial threat if sun exposure is too great.
Prior to becoming the State of Arizona, this land once belonged to Spain, then Mexico and finally became a territory of the U.S.
My husband and I did not have much time allotted for exploration of this second largest city in Arizona which is the home of the University of Arizona, but what we saw of it enticed us to want to make it a focal point for more vacation time someday.
Since we were so close to Tucson we decided to see some of that city. In those days we generally always consulted a Mobil Guide which listed local attractions as well as rating the different lodgings and restaurants and a prime attraction appeared to be the old and historic Mission San Xavier del Bac.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Also known as the White Dove of the Desert this historic church as well as the land upon which it is situated has an interesting history.
It is located 10 miles (16 km) south of the downtown area of Tucson on the Tohono O'odham San Xavier Indian Reservation.
A Jesuit by the name of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was the first missionary to visit the Indians living in these parts. Construction of the first Christian church began in 1756 and it was a mud adobe structure.
At one point while under Spanish rule, the Jesuits were expelled by the King. This occurred in 1767. The original church was eventually destroyed by marauding Apache Indians.
By 1783, Father Jean Bautista Velderrain (of the Franciscan order) began the construction process of the present beautiful church with the help of local Indian craftsmen as well as artisans from Mexico and it lasted until 1797 when the work was halted and services began to be held. The one tower was never completed whether on purpose or lack of funding and stands there today as it did at that time.
In 1821 this area became a part of the Republic of Mexico and after the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, it became a territory of the United States with the primary purpose of providing land area for construction of a transcontinental southern railroad linking the east coast to the west coast.
During the Civil War this was a part of the Confederacy.
Viewing the outside of this Moorish styled Spanish colonial structure is amazing! I can see why it is nicknamed the "White Dove of the Desert."
Just as a white dove would show up against a backdrop of browns, beige's and clay colors, this Mission San Xavier del Bac which is one of the finest examples of Mexican baroque architecture in the United States rises up off of the Sonoran desert floor glistening in the habitual sunshine.
The beautiful carved mesquite wood doors and surrounding facade provide a contrast to the white exterior and invite visitors inside to see more of the glorious architecture and embellished furnishings.
Supposedly many of the carved statues came from Mexico and combined with the gorgeous frescoes on the walls, every place one glances provides another visual feast for the eyes.
Lit candles flicker and visitors are welcomed to attend one of the daily masses or stroll through this Catholic church at other times of the day (from 7 AM to 5 PM) with few exceptions...those being private weddings or other such ceremonies. Most of the parishioners are residents of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.
San Xavier del Bac became a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and also became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.
To help educate the Indians as well as take care of their spiritual needs, a Catholic parochial school was opened in 1872.
I found it interesting to know that the nuns who operate it now are the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wisconsin...the state of my birth and childhood home. When I attended parochial school in Okauchee, Wisconsin (prior to my parents moving to Texas) it was also Franciscan nuns who operated that school.
Fondly do I remember the head nun and principal, Sister Lucas, a tiny bit of a woman in that flowing habit who ruled that school with firmness but also with a sense of humor. She could throw balls and swing a mean bat with the best of her students on the playground. The school that my Dad helped to build had the nun's living quarters on the second floor above the classrooms. In the basement were common multi-purpose rooms.
If the Franciscan nuns are anything like the ones of my experience, the Indian reservation children probably love them dearly as I did and are getting an excellent education.
The Franciscan friars and priests who operate the Mission San Xavier del Bac would not have had the money to maintain this structural and historic beauty for the hundreds of years since its inception.
Fortunately interested parties from the outside stepped in and helped to preserve it and continue to do so today by way of a charitable organization.
Hopefully this will continue long into the future so that future generations of Indians on the reservation as well as visitors can continue to worship there as well as enjoy the splendor of this historic site.
When my husband and I were visiting there, there was no scaffolding enshrouding the towers while people were doing necessary repairs. I hope you enjoyed my photos of the Mission San Xavier del Bac and learned a bit about its most interesting history.
TV report regarding renovations and preservation of this mission.
Would you enjoy visiting the Mission San Xavier del Bac?
© 2011 Peggy Woods