Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Situated 10-miles south of downtown Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a National Historic Landmark named for Christian missionary Francis Xavier, and founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Many times over the last two years Dan and I have driven down the freeway and observed the mission, set back off the road a ways, with the striking architecture always catching our eye. Both of us agreed we should take the time to visit the Mission, and finally this March we did, discovering the beauty hidden inside the walls of the church, and the history behind it. The exact location of the mission is in a centuries-old settlement of the Tohono O’odham Indians and is still part of the Reservation. Over the centuries, this land has been part of New Spain (late 1700’s), Mexico (1821), and finally the United States in1854. The Mission has endured raids, earthquakes, lighting strikes, land wars, water damage, political and religious changes, and deterioration due to age, but ongoing restoration efforts have succeeded in keeping it whole.
Hailed as the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with stunning original statuary and mural paintings. Visitors take a step back in time to an authentic 18th century setting when walking through the doors. Widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, it receives over 200,000 visitors each year. The Mission is also a pilgrimage site, with thousands visiting on foot and on horseback (called cabalgatas in Spanish). However, even in the midst of the steady stream of visitors and ongoing restoration, the church still retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.
What impressed me most of all was the Baroque architecture in the interior of the church. The rich ornamentation and dazzling colors of the paintings, carvings, frescoes, and statues display a mixture of New Spain and Native American artistic motifs, although little is actually known about the people who designed and decorated the interior. Every inch of the walls and ceiling are covered with scenes that depict their untold stories, but sparks the imagination to wonder what they might tell us. Many visits over long periods of time would be necessary to take this all in, but we did the best we could the one day we spent visiting Mission San Xavier del Bac. Hopefully our pictures captured a fraction of the beauty we witnessed.