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San Xavier Del Bac Mission - A Place with Special Meaning and History
One of the inner courtyards of the mission
The San Xavier Mission
I was excited to visit this mission, on our way back home after Christmas one year. I had no idea about the history or anything, but turns out to be the Southwest's most beautiful mission church. I was amazed to see just how beautiful it all was.
The gardens alone, were detailed and very interesting. They were doing construction on it some then. The inside is very elaborate as well. Many arches and art all around. The people that came here were very much in awe, and wanting to pay their respects. While the beliefs of the people differ from mine, I was enjoying learning about what they believed. It was cool for the kids to see something like this too.
The Del Bac part of the name, means "place where the water appears". It turns out, the Santa Cruz river runs underground, but comes up to the surface there. Being in such a desert landscape you can see why this was crucial to them, way back in 1692 especially.
Some Basic History of the Mission
Going back to the 17th Century we learn of a Jesuit missionary named Father Eusebio Kino. He became aquainted and lived alongside of the Pima people of southern Arizona. Father Eusebio Kino was the one that began the tradition of bringing livestock and seeds for new crops, which included wheat. The natives of the area that were involved in this missionary program, were able to escape forced labor.
One of the places south of Tucson, where Father Kino was inspiring the natives was called Bac. They began work on on what we now know as San Xavier del Bac. I found it interesting to learn that before Father Kino died that there were about 20 missions across the whole area.
Small portion of the inside of the mission church
San Xavier del Bac is the oldest and best preserved mission church in all of the Southwest USA. The area seems somewhat desolate, away from other things and so the structure is very visible and beautiful against the stark contrast of the landscape. Surrounding the area, is the Tohono O'odham reservation. It has come a long way since its beginning in 1700.
What you see today, was completed by Franciscan missionaries. It is truly beautiful, what they have created there. It is built mostly of adobe bricks, and is a very fine example of Spanish Colonial architecture. It is very unique and beautiful and if you can ever get the chance to see it, I would highly recommend it. Its not something you see everyday!
You will see other types of architecture incorporated over the life of this mission church, like several Baroque flourishes. During the 1990's, the interior of the church was completely renovated. They completely restored the altar pieces or retablos, to their former glory. When I went inside, I was amazed at the degree of art incorporated into the church. Its a huge work of art, or many ways, smaller works of art.
My favorite was the stone work detail on the front of the mission church. I tried to capture some of that on the top picture.