We had heard about the San Xavier Mission but wasn’t quite sure where it was. Driving down to some of our favorite southwest wine guide areas takes us onto Interstate 19, just southwest of Tucson, Arizona. To the right, in the distance, one can see what appears to be a white church sitting in the middle of the vast desert.
On a recent drive we decided to visit this interesting place and took the exit off the highway that pointed the way. We drove into the San Xavier Indian Reservation which is the smaller eastern section of the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation, the homeland of the tribe known as the Tohono O’odham Nation.
Driving down the winding street, past reservation homes, we eventually came to the San Xavier Mission. We parked in the dirt lot and began walking toward the white church. We were immediately awed by this beautiful structure also known as the “White Dove of the Desert”.
The architecture is magnificent as you approach this structure which was built from 1783 to 1797 by the Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz. A blend of Byzantine, Moorish and late Mexican Renaissance architecture, this place evokes elegant serenity and a sacredness that is difficult to put into words. Walking into the church at the San Xavier Mission, we felt as if we had entered not only a holy place of worship, but also a place of immense history and endurance.
Beautiful sacred chanting music fills every part of the interior which is incredibly colorful and detailed. The wall paintings are original and when needed, have been restored or repaired. The pews are plain and worn; sitting there one can envision the countless number of faithful people who have visited this church over the centuries.
Many faithful come to the San Xavier Mission with requests, needs and thanks for prayers answered by Saint Francis. One of the most poignant sites were the statues, worn and chipped from time, with messages pinned to them from those seeking some sort of miracle in their lives or for loved ones.
Candles can be purchased in the gift shop next door and can be lit and placed at the foot of the statues. We lit a candle in memory of all of our loved ones who have passed and to give thanks for our many blessings.
Inside and out, a little at a time, this church is undergoing a restoration to repair and preserve as much as possible. Funds are generated from the donations of visitors, the parish faithful and patrons. The church is open 365 days and mass is regularly held.
Regardless of your faith, the San Xavier Mission is a must-see place of interest for anyone traveling in this part of Arizona. We left the Mission feeling somehow uplifted with a sense of peacefulness and we will definitely return again during one of our southwest wine guide trips.