This week, I’m taking you to a spot in southern Arizona where the history is rich: the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson.
The old church, which still offers mass, is the oldest European structure in Arizona that is still intact. San Xavier Mission is a National Historic Landmark now but 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. More than 200,000 folks make the trek to visit the Mission every year and for good reason, the building’s architecture is beautiful and the inside is just as elaborate as you could expect when picturing a European masterpiece.
The current church dates back to the late 1700’s, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. In 1783, Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction on the present church structure using money that was borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired the architect Ignacio Gaona as well as a large workforce of O’odham to help create the present church. The Mission is still involved with the Tohono O’odham people and serves the local needs in the community, including those of Tohono O’odham.
After Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States and in 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866, Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent. The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. Recently, Mission San Xavier became a separate nonprofit entity. The building is undergoing restoration as funds become available.
The inside is really indescribable. So much thought and detail have been poured into making it its own piece of art. There are figurines, sculptures, and a million colors. It’s as if it was designed to truly celebrate the Heavens above and to welcome angels to earth. It’s one of the most elaborate designs I’ve ever witnessed. Enjoy the photos I’m including because I truly don’t know where to begin attempting to offer a description. This is one of those times that the pictures will just have to do the talking instead (and they still don’t give it all the justice deserved, naturally.)
There is also a museum on site. Both touring the church and the museum are free to the public (though donations both in-person and online are accepted). The only request is that you not tour the church while mass is being held. There’s a sign out front that lets you know all of the mass times so you don’t accidentally enter (you can find them online before you go, as well by clicking here.)The museum holds many relics and artifacts that are worth the trip alone if you’re into history. They’ve set the museum up in a way so that the history tells a story and the relics help to make the story come alive. Whether you are religious or not, seeing something that existed so long ago and is still preserved and exists now is just fascinating in my opinion. I always feel that relics have a way of connecting me to those that lived and walked this earth so long ago and I think that’s pretty cool. While we saw many things, these were my favorites:
The Mission holds special events from time to time and their Christmas concerts seem to be the favorite among those that attend the church regularly. This year, the Christmas concert is planned for December 13, 14, and 15th and is $90 per person, which goes toward the restorations. Seating is capped out at 250 per show.If you’re looking for something free to do, head on over to the Mission San Xavier del Bac. There’s also a hill off to the side of the Mission that you can hike up and use as a prayer area if you’re looking for a quick hike or stroll to stretch your legs out (I don’t believe the hill or prayer area are affiliated with the Mission, but are just there in conjunction). Let me know if you go! Plan on spending at least an hour to take in all of the details and walk around. Have a great weekend, friends!