The Spanish Mission of San Xavier Del Bac was built in between 1783 and 1797. It is a National Historic Landmark, and has been in continuous use for over 200 years. It was built by Tohono O'odham laborers. The epitome of great southwestern architecture and a relic from a time when pioneers exploring the American interior came from the South instead of the East. But if there is a reason ever given to visit the mission, it is to see the amazing details inside the church. Adorned inside with awe inspiring frescoes and detailed geometric patterns and religious icons, themes and art adorn the whole of the interior in colors that must have been brilliant when seen with the eyes of the original parishioners. The gold still glimmers even in the deem lighting caused by the shadows cast from the dome above and the art on the walls. I was in awe as I walked through the doors. One can feel the presence of the deity inside San Xavier like never before. Most churches are empty and void of the presence of holiness, I was humbled by the need to pray, and the feeling of conviction. I said a prayer for my ailing mother and felt the angels carry the prayer from my mouth to God’s ears.
The History: In the year 1692 Father Eusebio Francisco Kino founded the original mission on the Tohono O'Odham reservation during his travels through the wilderness of old California. He founded a number of other missions over the years, and the San Xavier mission was established at the place where the underground Santa Cruz river comes to the surface. As with all missions of the American southwest, a town grew around it as people searched for faith, prosperity, and protection from Indian attacks. One of those attacks destroyed the mission, and a new one had to be erected in 1783 about two miles south of the original foundation. The church’s south tower was never completed and remains unfinished even today. It is unknown why the church was never completed, some say they run out of funds while others contend it was time. However the factor of hostility could have also contributed to it not being completed.
The mission enjoyed modest prosperity until 1828 when the Mexican government, fresh from its victory over Spain, demanded loyalty from all Spanish priests in its territory. The Franciscans at San Xavier refused loyalty to Mexico, and returned to Span in 1831 while the new Mexican government confiscated the land and buildings. For more than 25 years the church was vacant, and travelers crossing the wasteland of Mexico bound for the promise of wealth in California, stopped here to rest in the shade and etch their names on the interior walls. The mission came back to life in 1863 when the Diocese of Santa Fe was given responsibility for the new territory of Arizona. Repairs were made and a priest was once again installed at San Xavier.
Today: Today the mission serves as a pilgrim destinations for Catholics local and world wide. It also serves as an attraction for those who appreciate architecture, art, statutes etc.
Jesuit priest came to this valley to convert the Native America's, the Tohono O'odham tribe. Father Eusebius Kino visited in 1692 and laid the foundation of the first mission. Sadly the Jesuits were expelled by 1767. The Franciscans moved in by 1768 and the completion of the mission was accomplished 1797. The missions architecture is of Spanish Renaissance, Moorish, & Aztec design. The front facade is very ornate in a rich red arabesque. The columns are four figures in niches. The first above and to the left with crown & royal robe is the statue of Saint Elizabeth. The figure below with a black robe a Jesuit priest. To the right the upper figure with tambourine is St. Cecilia. The one in the niche below is blackened from candle wax because the traditions is the saint cures their sore eyes. The church front entrance is covered with beautiful scroll work having the coat of arms of the Franciscan monks, which is a cross, with a rope coil above and two arms below, one of which represents that of Christ, and is naked, the other one that of St. Francis de Assisi, and is partially clothed. Inside is in the shape of the cross. The whole inside is adorned with very ornate frescoes and each has a very significant meaning. It is all a lot to take in. They do ask for people to be very quiet to respect others who might be in prayer. A very lovely church. You have to take the time to explore it to fully appreciate it's history.
When visiting the San Xavier Mission, be respectful of the many pictures, candles, and prayers that are left by visitors .
Everyday the Mission has pilgrams, tourist and locals pray to Saint Francis for intersessionary pray to God. This tradition goes back to Father Ignacio Joseph Ramirez y Arellano who is believed to have had a miraculous state in death that was witnessed by people from all over the Tucson area. Many people believe that their prayers have been answered by Saint Francis.
Also on the grounds, is what I've come to call the "Prayer Fence". Not a religious person myself - but certainly a spiritual one - I hiked up the nearby hill located right of the church. At the top I found a fence with ribbons, prayers, photos and more candles entwined in the most respectful, calming manner.
Perhaps I was being disrespectful, but my curiousity got the better of me and I began to read some of the people's prayers, mostly cures for ailing loved ones. The Prayer Fence touched by heart in ways the Mission itself could not. It was here I found human compassion.
We were staying a weekend in Tucson, and on waking up, I saw on our hotel travel guide a picture of the San Xavier del Bac Church – it looked wonderful and it was a Sunday, so I checked and it we could make it to Sunday Mass!
So off we went to this church which was just about 8 miles from where we were, and we just went on Interstate 19 (going south from Downtown Tucson), and there it was – a magnificent white church looking out of place in the desert with a backdrop of the Tucson mountains. Awesome- is is also called the White Dove of the desert and aptly so (looked like a white dove indeed) ---- and it is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.
It 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. Recently though, due to the economic recession of 2010, funding has been cut in preserving this church (from what I hear from our secretary). Our Latina secretary also said that there is a "rat" painting on the ceiling (which I did not remember) which according to folklore will signify the end of the world if it goes to the other side (?).
Once there, we saw tents where people were selling tacos and other stuff – we did buy some to support the local industry after mass. Parking was very easy even on that Sunday.
The church is a magnificent structure and we enjoyed taking jumping pics in fron of it, of course, haha…and then we went inside and we were awed by the murals – very old murals and statues. It has also been dubbed as the Sistine chapel of North America.
The mass was mostly in English, with some Hispanic songs. Picture taking is allowed before the mass only. There is also a little museum and also a small chapel to offer candle favors.
There is a hill which you could climb beside the church but when we visited, it was the peak of summer so we did not - maybe next time we will go up...
Truly a great find in Tucson :) – written August 2010
The Mission is located on Indian territory. The church is visible from the motorway, and once off the motorway, tourists have to follow the markers to the church. There are "no trespassing" notices for the other roads.
We didn't know what to expect when going to the Mission on Easter day.
But, there was a cheery ambiance and the church was overcrowded. Just as lots of other people, we had to wait outside. We heard plainsong coming out of the church, and at the end of the mass, there was an Indian choir singing and making music. It was really an experience.
The inside of the church is small, but very beautiful. It has been restored with a lot of taste. The wooden seats are unusual and the altar is splendid.
There is a also a little Mary chapel next to the church, in a cacti garden. All of them were blossoming. What an enchanting place!
On the square, there were lots of Indian BBQ stalls, and there is also an Indian market where one can buy handcraft and Indian art.
Mission San Xavier del Bac was established by the Jesuit Missionary Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. The present church was built by the Franciscans, between 1783 and 1797. Mission San Xavier del Bac is still a functioning parish church serving the residents of the San Xavier Tohono O'odham Reservation. There are a number of stands leading to the mission where you can stop and buy some Native American food. For more information, see my San Xavier Page.
Ever since visiting southern California and visiting San Juan Capistrano & San Juan Bautista, I have been interested in missions. In doing research for our trip to Tucson, I found information about San Xavier del Bac Mission and had planned to visit it right after visiting Colossal Cave Mountain Park, but forgot to bring our map and of course, the "driver" didn't want to stop and ask for directions! I didn't want to waste the information I had collected about the Mission prior to our trip, so I am adding this tip to make use of it.
The San Xavier del Bac Mission is quite different from the other two that I have visited in that it is a much larger, and grandiose church even though it is considered "Mission architecture." It combines several architectural styles including "Mexican Renaissance". The present church was built from 1783 - 1797, replacing the original church which was slightly south. The Mission was built in the settlement of the "Tohono O'odham" people which are related to the Pima tribe and the original "Hohokam" tribes people. The Mission's name was chosen by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino to honor his patron saint, St. Xavier, and for its location called "Bac", which means "place where the water appears" in the O'odham language--the Santa Cruz River is nearby. The story of who the architect was and who the artisans were that built this architecturally stunning church is still somewhat of a mystery today!!
The Mission is distinguished by its large, bright white dome and almost symmetrical towers (one is incomplete) rising from the desert floor. Pictures reveal the interior, vaulted ceilings adorned with paintings which are original and ornate plaster work. The altar appears to be a splendid combination of paintings and gilt. The church is currently undergoing restoration, but is still open for services and visitors. In fact, it is a fully working parish church and part of the diocese of Tucson, serving mainly the Tohono O'odham, but open to all. It is served by the Franciscan order.
The Mission church is open EVERY day from 8:00 to 5:00. Admission and parking is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. There is a continuously available video tape for more information about the Mission. A gift shop is also located there.
San Xavier del Bac Mission church has a limited number of seats--if you plan to attend Mass, please check their website for correct times and try to arrange your tour outside of Mass times.
This church was built as a mission by Franciscan monks in the 1700's and is still in use today on the Tohono O'odham native reservation. I guess the monks decided to build a church which would impress everybody, and it still does. A non-profit group has undertaken to restore and rebuild the mission, and by 2004 the insides are complete, and work is taking place on the left tower (you can see the scaffolding in my picture). The saguaros in front of the church are quite beat up. Maybe it's time to replace them too.
Parking and entrance is free, although of course donations are accepted.
An exploration of San Xavier's surroundings gives visitors a more complete picture of the Mission. In front, a number of wood stalls have been erected, and there is a hive of activity around Native American vendors selling everything from handmade wares and jewelry to fry bread topped in sugar or honey. To the left of the Mission is a tranquil and interesting cemetery, which can provide a quite respite from San Xavier's crowded hall. For wonderful views and a picture-perfect glimpse of San Xavier, hike up the hill topped by a white cross to the right of the Mission. In the late afternoon, the setting sun casts a beautiful orange glow over the Mission.
this was the most beautyful mission i have seen.
a lot they have renovated. it is the oldest one i think.
also named as the white dove of the desert.
hours 6am - 7pm.
i think pima indians helped with build this mission
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