Is a historic Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles (16 km) south of downtown Tucson, Arizona, on the Tohono O'odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. Named for a pioneering Christian missionary and co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuit Order), the Mission is also known as the "place where the water appears," as there were once natural springs in the area.
The Santa Cruz River which now runs only part of the year is also nearby. The Mission is situated in the center of a centuries-old Indian settlement of the Tohono O'odham (formerly known as Papago), located along the banks of the Santa Cruz River.
The mission was founded in 1692 by the Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino, founder of the Spanish missions in the Sonoran Desert chain, who often visited and preached in the area. The original mission church, located about two miles (3 km) away, was vulnerable to Apache attacks who finally destroyed it in about 1770. Charles III of Spain banned all Jesuits from Spanish lands in the Americas in 1767 because of his distrust of the Jesuits. From this time on, San Xavier mission was led by the more pliable and "reliable" Franciscans. The present building was constructed under the direction of Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz mainly with native labor working from 1783-1797 with a loan of 7,000 pesos and serves the Catholics of the San Xavier District of Tohono O'odham Nation. Unlike the other Spanish missions in Arizona, San Xavier is still actively served by Franciscans, and still serves the Native community by which it was built.
Not much appears to have been written about the Mission from 1797 to 1828. In 1822, it fell under the jurisdiction of the newly independent Mexican government and the Catholic Diocese of Sonora.
In 1828, the Mexican government banned all Spanish-born priests and the priest serving at San Xavier was sent home to Spain; San Xavier was left vacant. From 1828-1858, the vacant church began to decay and local Indians, concerned about their church, started preserving what they could.
In 1853, the church was brought under U.S. jurisdiction when the surrounding territory was bought in the Gadsen Purchase. The vacant and decaying church was re-opened, in 1859, when the U.S.-based Santa Fe Diocese added Arizona to its jurisdiction.
The Bishop for the Santa Fe Diocese ordered repairs to be made with Diocese money and a priest was assigned to serve at San Xavier.
The White Dove of the Desert
Outside, San Xavier has a white, Moorish-inspired design, elegant and simple, with an ornately decorated entrance. No records of the architect, builders, craftsmen and artisans responsible for creating and decorating it are known.
Most of the labor was provided by the local Indians, and many believe they provided most or all of the artisans as well.
Visitors entering the massive, carved mesquite-wood doors of San Xavier are often struck by the coolness of the interior, and the dazzling colors of the paintings, carvings, frescoes and statues.
The interior is richly decorated with ornaments showing a mixture of New Spain and Native American artistic motifs.
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Grotto Hill Near San Xavier
Grotto with homage to the Virgin Mary in the north side of the hill east of the Mission. Note: There is a sign at the mission that says that "Grotto Hill" is not on mission property.
View of Mission from small hill immediately to the east of the Mission,
The floor plan of the church resembles the classic Latin cross. The main aisle is separated from the sanctuary by the transept or cross aisle, with chapels at either end. The dome above the transept is 52 feet (16 m) high supported by arches and squinches. At least three different artists painted the artwork inside the church
An interior view of the chapel at Mission San Xavier del Bac
Virgin Mary on the epistle side transept
Entombed San Xavier statue on the gospel side transept
Apse and altar
A courtyard inside the Mission complex
Today, the Mission is open to the public daily, except when it is being used for church services.
Hours the Mission Church is open to the public: 7:00 am - 5:00 pm daily
Mission San Xavier del Bac
1950 W. San Xavier Road
Tucson, AZ 85746-7409