Mission San Xavier del Bac Visited

“The White Dove of the Desert” founded in 1692—built 1783.  One of the best preserved and most exquisite old Spanish Missions in the Southwest.  Established in 1692 by Father Kino—a pioneering Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order)—it stands in the center of a Tohono O’odham (formerly Papago) settlement along the banks of the Santa Cruz River, 9 miles south of Tucson.  The Mission is also known as the “place where the water appears,” as there were once natural springs in the area.  Catholic services are held here regularly for the native Tohono O’odham people, who are the direct descendants of those for whom the mission was conceived. (post cards)

Note: I felt the following architectural history important with this publication.  However, the majority of details are beyond my understanding as you will probably agree.  On the other hand, my images may illustrate to some degree the complexity and lavishness of this magnificent structure.   Extremely difficult photography inside the Mission.

Outside, San Xavier has a white, Moorish-inspired design, elegant and simple, with an ornately decorated entrance.  Constructed of low-fire clay brick, stone, and lime mortar, the entire structure is roofed with masonry vaults, making it unique among Spanish Colonial buildings within United States borders.  The architect, Ignacio Gaona, is credited with building another church in Caborca, Sonora Mexico.

Little is known about the people who decorated the interior.  The artwork was probably commissioned by Fr. Velderrain’s successor and most likely created by artist from Queretero in New Spain (now Mexico).  The sculpture was created in workshops and carried by donkey through the Pimeria Alta (southern Arizona today) to its destination, the Mission.  Craftsmen created gessoes clothing once the sculpture was in place.

The church contains numerous references to the Franciscan cord both on the façade and throughout the church.

The shell, a symbol of pilgrimage after the patron saint of Spain, Santiago or James the Greater, is replicated all through the structure in window treatments, the sanctuary, the facade, and other details within the interior.

The Baroque architecture style features playful dramatic elements such as theatrical curtain display, faux doors, marbling, and over all sense of balance.  The interior is richly decorated with ornaments showing a mixture of New Spain and Native American artistic motifs.  The floor plan of the church resembles the classic Latin cross.  The main aisle is separated from the sanctuary by the transept or cross aisle, with 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. (http://www.sanxaviermission.org/)

Higher Altar

The area behind the high altar was originally a dazzling gilded color.  However, it has been subdued by the passing of the years.  Most of the paintings are original although some have lost their luster.  The two lion-like images on either side of the communion rail represent the “Lions of Castile,” a tribute to the reigning family in Spain during the 1780’s and 1790’s.  Because of the beautiful interior art, the Mission has been referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the United States.  (post card)

Mission San Xavier del Bac—a National Historic Landmark.  In the Tucson area, don’t miss this visit to the past.

Additional Mission San Xavier del Bac images can be seen at www.corinthrose.com under Travel.  Tucson and Gates Pass, Arizona gallery can also be found under Travel.

Postscript:  Back in January of this year I posted that my publications would be more focused on family history-genealogy.  A Florida friend immediately emailed to encourage me not to forget about my photography and to occasionally post images from our travels.

Consequently, that’s what this blog post was all about.  Thanks for dropping by.


About corinthrose

Born again Christian, helpmate of 42 years, domestic engineer of two children, GRANDmother of six darlings, professional volunteer, fanatic photographer, and a wanna be writer. Occasionally, infatuated with family history, flower photography, and traveling with my hiking buddy.
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2 Responses to Mission San Xavier del Bac Visited

  1. Wow! Loved learning about this mission. Such rich colors in the interior. I’d love to see this some day.

  2. Sheryl says:

    The interior of the mission is amazing. If I ever get to Tuscon I’m definitely going to visit it.

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