Mission San Xavier – Tucson, AZ –

Fresh on a good nights rest after an afternoon of trekking through the Saguaro National Park the day before, I head to the Mission San Xavier. I am a good two miles away when I first see the white dome just glowing on the horizon.  It is a marvel from a distance, I can’t wait to get closer.
Curious Craig - Mission San Xavier
Some 200,000 visitors come each year from all over the world to view what is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.  I assume the place to be a tourist mecca so I arrive at daybreak just so I can avoid crowds and take photos unimpeded.

Mission San Xavier Bells

Mission History

Founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797 when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States. Through it all, the church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners.

The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

Mission San Xavier Sanctuary
Mission San Xavier Sanctuary

The Early Bird…

The place is locked as I arrive a bit too early. I feel a bit uneasy prowling the grounds, but I do get the unobstructed outside photos that I desire. Wandering around the back of the mission, I find a gentleman tending to his flock of doves and an opportunistic squirrel or two. I stay in the background until he empties his bucket of feed. Who he is, I do not know, he may have been the Pope. If so, his English is better than he lets on. We exchange pleasantries about birds and feeding and he disappears back into the walled sanctuary.  After this little human interaction, I feel much more comfortable here now.

Curious Craig - Man-Feeding-Birds.jpeg

 Mission Hill

 I notice a large hill just beside the mission with a cross atop it. While killing time, I walk over to it and climb up.

The hill is informally named for a small religious shrine tucked into a rocky grotto on its flanks. This shrine is a place of quiet reflection and prayer for some who walk the trail.

As I amble clockwise around the trail, I see the mission and grounds, the Tucson Mountains, the Catalina Mountains, parts of the Rincon Mountains and Mount Wrightson. The view of the mission from here is spectacular.

Curious Craig - Mission from Grotto Hill

Going to the chapel…

By now the massive chapel doors are open. The opulence inside is as much impressive as it is intimidating. I’ve never been much of a church person in general and am pretty ignorant of the Catholic faith particularly.  I see racks of burning candles placed by visitors and signs of other rituals that I am unfamiliar with.    Some missions I have visited, prohibit photos and others do not. There are no signs stating no photos, however, a gentleman has arrived before I and was seemingly in prayer.   I take a seat and pretend to also be in prayer. Being respectful,  I wait until he leaves to snap a few photos.  I’ve led a good wholesome life for the most part. Why being in church makes me so anxious might warrant some further introspection.

Curious Craig - Inside Mission San Xavier

The too early bird

In front of the mission is a large plaza circled by approximately a dozen empty vendor stalls. Many of them have makeshift grills.  I wonder what the specialty might be when they get up a going. I did see one vendor begin to set up, though I suspect the others are still a couple of hours behind him. The plaza looks like it could be a happening place, I regret being too early to see it in full swing.

Though the sanctuary opens at 7 and the gift shop at 8. The docent-led tours don’t start until 9-9:30.    I have spent as much time here as I can and unfortunately leave without a tour of the place. What I saw, however, was grand and the architecture magnificent.

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