Scenic USA - Arizona
Mission San Xavier del Bac
|Photos by Marty Straub
Marty Straub Photography
Mission San Xavier del Bac, just south of Tucson, was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino.
A Jesuit missionary, Father Kino’s mission field covered a huge section of today's northern state of Sonora and southern Arizona. His brief visits to Xavier included time spent laying out the foundation of a large church. Unfortunately Father Kino's dream was never realized by the time of his death in 1711. Thirty-five years passed before construction of the first church began. Under the direction of Father Alonso Espinosa, the smal church used the oldest and most common building materials, mud adobe and mortar.
Once the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767, Father Juan Bautista Velderrain arrived at San Xavier in 1776. Father Velderrain, a Basque Franciscan, borrowed enough money to begin construction on a larger church. Using an architect from Mexico and a large workforce of Native O’odham workmen, the San Xavier Church became one of the best examples of Mexican baroque architecture in the United States. After Father Velderrain died, Father Juan Bautista Llorens, continued to oversee construction of the church interior. Although building funds were exhausted and the church was not finished, the White Dove of the Desert opened its doors for services in 1797.
Following independence from Spain in 1821, the Mexican government pressured all area priests to pledge loyalty to the new government. The priest serving at San Xavier (HAUV-e-air), refusing this new order, was sent home to Spain. Left vacant for years, the clay brick church building began to deteriorate. Local Indians, concerned for the withering church, took its furnishings into their homes to preserve what they could.
Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, where Mexico ceded a large part of its territory to America in today's states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, and Colorado, interest in restoring the Mission San Xavier del Bac began in earnest. Funded by the Santa Fe Diocese, repairs to stabilize the structure began in 1859.
Today, visitors are welcome to tour the church, while reminded it is still active parish church with weekly services. The church has been undergoing exterior repairs over the last few years and this amazing interior has recently received a complete restoration. The church interior presents exquisite ornate trim, beautiful frescos, stained glass and marvelous detail. A true historic treasure!
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