Friday – April 3, 2015
Mission San Xavier del Bac
We visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac this afternoon. It is a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles south of downtown Tucson, Arizona, on the Tohono O'odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. It was founded in 1692 by Padre Eusebio Kino and named for a pioneering Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order), Francis Xavier. In 1700 construction began on a church at a site nearby the current Mission. It served the community until razed by Apaches in 1770.
Today's Mission was built between 1783-1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. Widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, it hosts some 200,000 visitors each year.
Following Mexican independence in 1821, what was then Alta California was administered from Mexico City. In 1822, the Mission fell under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Sonora. In 1828, the Mexican government banned all Spanish-born priests, with the last resident Franciscan departing San Xavier for Spain in 1837.
Left vacant, the Mission began to decay. Concerned about their church, local Indians began to preserve what they could. With the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, San Xavier was brought under U.S. rule as part of the Territory of Arizona. The church was re-opened in 1859 when the Santa Fe Diocese added the Mission to its jurisdiction. It ordered repairs paid for with diocesean money, and assigned a priest to serve the community. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the church once again.
In 1872 the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission. In 1895 a grant of $1,000 was given to repair the building. More classrooms were added in 1900. The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. In 1947, a new school was built next to the church for the Tohono O’odham children.
Extensive restoration in the late 20th century has returned the Mission interior to its historic splendor. Cement-based stucco added in the 1980s trapped water inside the church and damaged its interior decorations. It is being removed and replaced with traditional mud plaster incorporating pulp from the prickly pear cactus that "breathes" better and allows excess water to escape but requires more frequent inspection and has higher maintenance costs. Following extensive and ongoing restoration of decorations, the Mission church interior now largely appears in its original state, with brilliant colors and complex designs.
San Xavier has an elegant white stucco Moorish-inspired exterior, with an ornately decorated entrance. Visitors entering the massive, carved mesquite-wood doors are often struck both by the coolness of the interior and the dazzling colors of the paintings, carvings, frescoes and statues. Its rich ornamentation displays a mixture of New Spain and Native American artistic motifs.
The floor plan of the church resembles the classic Latin cross, with a main aisle separated from the sanctuary by the transept, which has chapels at either end. The dome above the transept is 52 feet high, supported by arches and squinches. At least three different artists painted the artwork inside the church. It is considered by many to be the finest example of Spanish mission architecture in the United States.
The Mission was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.
A large white cross sits on top of a hill located adjacent to the Mission. A walking path ascends halfway up the hill and then encircles it. A short distance on the path around the hill is a replica of the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine that was built into the side of the hill in 1908, on the Fiftieth anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes, France.
Tomorrow another adventure begins.