San Xavier del Bac
1950 W. San Xavier Rd., Tucson
HOURS: Daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m.
COST: Free; donations encouraged
Founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and then built slowly over decades by other priests, missionaries, and natives, San Xavier del Bac sits pure white against the perpetually blue sky about nine miles south of Tucson on the Tohono O’odham’s San Xavier Indian Reservation. It is considered by many to be the foremost example of mission architecture remaining in the United States, blending elements of Moorish, Byzantine, and late Mexican Renaissance architecture.
Few Arizona landmarks have received as much worldwide attention as the “white dove of the desert,” which has also been called America’s answer to the Sistine Chapel. Mass is still celebrated daily in the church (check website for times), but non-Catholic visitors are encouraged and welcomed.
Most days there are tables and booths set up in the mission’s plaza selling burritos, fry bread, and other delicious eats, and across the wide plaza to the south is San Xavier Plaza, with a snack bar and several shops selling Native American crafts.
Statues and paintings of St. Francis Xavier and the Virgin of Guadalupe decorate the cool, dark interior of the domed church. A continuous videotape about the mission runs throughout the day as a self-guided tour, and there’s a gift shop on-site that sells religious items and books about the history of San Xavier del Bac and the region. A small museum presents the history of the area’s native inhabitants and the construction and ongoing rehabilitation of the mission.
San Xavier del Bac is continually being worked on, but the seemingly ever-present scaffolding doesn’t detract too much from its grandeur. In late 2008, the front of the mission was finally revealed again after years of being covered with scaffolding.
© Tim Hull from Moon Tucson, 1st Edition