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Mission San Xavier del Bac

"White Dove of the Desert" and Winter Fields
Just to the southwest of Tucson, on the San Xavier Reservation, sits the late XVIII-century Mission San Xavier del Bac, one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The combination of late Baroque and Moorish-inspired design is a beacon any time of the year, but on this winter day, the flooded fields worked some magic—panoramas of reflected landscapes are almost nonexistent in southern Arizona! The 'white dove of the desert' is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, and it still serves as a parish church for the Tohono O'odham people.

Baroque in the Desert
Just nine miles from downtown Tucson stands the 'White dove of the Desert,' the Mission San Xavier del Bac. Built in the late 1700s, it is still the parish church of the local Tohono O'odham tribe. The relatively simple, Moorish-inspired exterior shelters a surprisingly ornate Baroque interior, mostly crafted by Native American artisans when what is now southern Arizona was known as "Pimeria Alta" in the Spanish Empire. (Tucson would not formally be part of the U.S. until the mid-19th century.)

My first visit here happened to be on the day after Easter (when the mission is closed to visitors), and a few of the previous day's lilies remained.

Many think of 'globalization' as being a modern phenomenon, but standing under the adobe domes of this Spanish colonial structure, it's sobering to think of the influences that traveled across time and longitudes to end up in this church in the Sonoran desert: Byzantine, Spanish Islamic, Renaissance, Baroque, with touches of Native American syncretism.

The 'big-box' stores and multiplex-cinema just up the highway: a different universe.

To get here from Tucson, take I-19 south, get off on San Xavier Rd. at Exit 92, and head west; you can see the mission ahead of you.

Inside the "White Dove of the Desert"
Drive just 15 minutes south of downtown Tucson, onto the lands of the Tohono O'odham Nation, and you'll come upon "The White Dove of the Desert." Mission San Xavier del Bac was founded in 1692, and the current structure dates to the 1780s.

Enter the mesquite doors of this church with a Moorish-inspired exterior and Baroque façade. Inside, the temperature drops. Allow your eyes to adjust from the Sonoran Desert sun, and the richness of the frescoes and sculptures will begin to reveal themselves. Ornate yet still naïve, this is some of the best Spanish colonial art in the U.S. (The land on which this church stands wouldn't become part of the U.S. until 1854.)

The statue in the lower right of the photo above is of Kateri Tekakwitha--the first Native American to be canonized by the Catholic Church, in October of 2012. San Xavier is still the parish church of the Tohono O'odham people.

Open every day of the year, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The plaza in front of the church is lined with mesquite-ocotillo-saguaro-rib ramadas, where you can often sample local food prepared by Tohono O'odham families.

(San Xavier is grandly proportioned, but intimate. Be respectful of the residents for whom this is still a house of worship and not just amazing architecture.)

Tucson, Arizona USA

Schedule of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Hours the Mission Church is open to the public: 7:00 am - 5:00 pm daily

(The Mission church will be unavailable at certain times for special services.)

Office Hours: 8:30 am - 4:30 pm (Monday - Friday)

Mass Schedule: Saturday Vigil: 5:30 pm
Sunday: 7:00 am, 10:00 am, 11:30 am

Daily: Monday: Communion Service 8:30am (in the Mission church)
Tuesday - Friday Mass: 8:30 am (in the Mission church)

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797.

The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church's interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.

San Xavier Mission
San Xavier Mission, located just nine miles south of downtown Tucson, Arizona, is the country's finest example of Spanish colonial architecture. It was originally founded as a Franciscan Catholic Mission in 1692 and the current church building was eventually completed in 1797. The structure is built of clay brick, lime mortar and stone and has a unique roof design consisting of masonry vaults.

In the 1700's, Southern Arizona was included in New Spain, but with Mexican independence in 1821, the Mission became part of Mexico. With the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, San Xavier again changed countries and became part of the United States.

Today, the Mission still operates as a church. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark. It's free to visit and as an added bonus, on Sundays, freshly cooked native foods are for sale. Most famous are the fried breads which have delicious meats, chilis and fresh vegetable toppings and fillings. I really enjoyed my visit and I'm sure you will, too.

San Xavier Indian Reservation
This stop was impromptu and off the cuff. Even though we had a GPS, I always like to have a Rand McNally Road Atlas. I am glad we did as I later learned that this "pull" to stop here was even more significant than I could have imagined. Even though the Mission was closed, this stop was amazing. From the vista to the sacredness one could feel it even though our time was short. So much was alive and thriving here 100's of years ago! As I have recently read this is a pilgrimage stop for some! I guess having an atlas helps as it was marked! I am just glad I had the opportunity to visit and share it! "The White Dove of the Desert" was so beautiful in person.

Sunsets at Mission Xan Xavier Del Bac
Mission San Xavier Del Bac near Tucson, Arizona, a fantastic place to witness a fiery desert sunset (this is taken during the monsoon season in the summer). Construction began for the Mission in 1783, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain, and is made of low-fire clay brick, stone and lime mortar. The Mission is situated in the center of a centuries-old Indian settlement of the Tohono O’odham (formerly known as Papago), located along the banks of the Santa Cruz River.

The original builders never finished the east bell tower. It has no dome, and for about 120 years many of its bricks lacked a protective plaster. One is that to this day, the east tower of the Mission has never been completed. Several records exist to explain about why it was left unfinished. When the original loan was determined not to be enough, the priests decided not to finish it so that no taxes would have to be paid under the King of Spain's Royal Decree that unfinished buildings paid no taxes.However, some old records also reveal that a popular Pima Indian worker was killed during construction in 1784 when he fell down off a ladder and was impaled through his head with an iron bar, with no other Indian wanting to work on the tower.

1950 San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746, USA
+1 520-294-2624