Travel Photo Thursday: Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac (Pronounced San Ha-veer) was built in 1797 on a site first visited by Father Kino, the Spanish missionary, in the 1600s. It is the only mission church in Arizona that is still a parish church, serving the Tohono O’Odham, on whose lands it is located. The picture above peeks through a ramada built as a food booth on the plaza facing the mission. The roof is made of ocotillo cactus branches, and the form mimics the summer homes used by the Tohono O’odham in times gone by.
The Mission had fallen upon hard times until a fund raising campaign paid for restoration work that took place over many years. The work is close to completed, but on the front side of the church, one tower has been restored while the other stands as it was–weathered from the desert sun and wind. The plaster work was restored by Tohono O’odham craftsmen, who understood the materials used by their forefathers in building the church. The Spanish missionaries directed the original work, but it was carried out by the indigenous people. While the architecture and ornamentation does not rival a Renaissance cathedral in Italy or France, the accomplishment of people in a desert land who had never done this kind of work before–never held a paint brush, or seen religious objects–makes the end product seem spectacular.
The art work on the inside melds typical religious symbols with materials and plants familiar to the native artists. When it came time to restore the inside paintings, blackened by more than two centuries of candle smoke, art restorers from around the world, particularly from Italy, came to the rescue. I particularly love this angel who seems to be wearing a cut-off version of an 18th-century woman’s dress. What daring bare legs!
Some items in the church, like statues of saints and some tile work, were imported on the long Camino Real that led from Spain through Mexico to Pimeria Alta (the name for northern New Spain). I suspect this door handle on the front door may have been imported. On the other hand, it does have the right shaped head for a rattlesnake, native of the surrounding Sonoran desert.
And how interesting to have a symbol of sin the first thing you touch as you enter the church. Perhaps he’s looking for Eve?
You can learn more about the details of the Mission and the preservation at the site of the fundraising organization, Patronato.
After you’ve toured the mission, head back to the ramada food stalls for some chili or fry bread.
Perhaps Father Kino had something else in mind than Fry Bread and Indian Tacos for sale in front of his mission. But after all, he’s the one who introduced both wheat and beef to the native people here.
More about Southern Arizona and a couple more pictures of the mission here.
This has been my weekly contribution to Photo Travel Thursday, a round-up of travel writers and photographers spurred on by Nancie at Budget Traveler’s Sandbox. Click on over to her site and you can see pictures on many themes from all around the world.
These photos are all my property, so please respect my copyright. Thank you.