Baroque in Arizona – Mission San Xavier Del Bac
If you’ve ever driven across the vast deserts of Arizona you know it holds many treasures, however few compare to the stunning Mission San Xavier del Bac. The mission is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona and claims to be ‘the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US’. Affectionately called the ‘White Dove of the Desert” this Baroque designed mission was built in the late 1700’s by Franciscans to spread Christianity to the Native Americans (actually the mission was founded in 1692, but the church you see today came nearly 100 years later).
The Mission San Xavier del Bac is located 10 miles south of Tucson, Arizona (basically in the middle of nowhere) however in terms of architecture it’s worlds apart. It has a rich history starting in New Spain (Mexico), to a close call with Cooke’s Mormon battalion, an 1887 Earthquake, a 1939 Lightning strike, to the 1989 emergency restoration…if only these walls could talk.
Still today the Mission San Xavier del Bac is used for weddings, funerals, Mass and Communion service which makes this a truly unique destination within the National Park Service. Due to US law the church cannot receive funding from the government because they are still practicing religion within the walls. One might think funding would be a problem in such a remote area, however it seems the community and the visitors really step up to the plate when it comes to donations (we dropped in $10 for our visit).
Step inside the walls and you’re greeted with haunting statuary, amazing murals and curious hardware that’s reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie.
Make time to hike up ‘Grotto Hill’ for a unique perspective of the mission and a beautiful shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
While we wondered around taking in the visual history I couldn’t stop thinking about how unique this place is, and in my mind I took it one step further: The Mission San Xavier del Bac is equally as interesting as the great Vatican City. Yes, I understand this is a bold statement but when I break it down I still agree with myself:
• There are no lines to enter and once inside there are not thousands of people wondering the halls
• There are no entry fees or parking fees, just an optional donation box
• There are free guided docent tours should you want to delve deeper into the history
• You can go beyond the walls of this mission and hike up the nearby hill for peaceful views
• If you’ve seen enough the exit is close by so you don’t have to feel like a walking zombie trying to make your way through a maze of never ending treasures
Please know my photos do not do this place justice. If I had my way, and the time, I would have come back and captured photographs with a tripod and I would have waited for a night shot as I’m positive the building would have been stunning with the desert stars as a backdrop. Should you find yourself in the Tucson area you must make time to visit this little known American treasure. If you want to learn more about the mission visit their website www.sanxaviermission.org
If you’ve stumbled across the San Xavier del Bac deep in the Arizona Desert please share your experience below (or even better if you’ve seen the sister church in Caborca, Sonora Mexico), we’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t heard of the mission I hope this sparks your interest as it is a wonderful destination for exploration. Happy Travels.