White Dove of the Desert

IMG_4036If one has even a passing interest in architecture or history, one cannot ignore churches and cathedrals—monuments built to honor something greater than mankind itself.  One such building is the Mission San Xavier del Bac, located just south of Tucson, Arizona.

I had photographed the mission a number of times, but was frustrated that my efforts only duplicated the many tourist postcards available throughout Tucson. That changed one evening when I set out on nothing more than an evening drive.  It was early summer and already quite warm. The sky was cloudless, the light unusually soft.  I had brought my camera.  As the sun began its descent over the land of the Tohono O’Odham nation, the white mission church began to turn the golden colors you will see below.

This Catholic mission to local Indians was begun in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino (long beloved in Southern Arizona), but his order, the Jesuits, were expelled from what was then called New Spain.  Their work was taken over by the Franciscan Order, which started building the present structure of clay bricks and stone in 1783.  The church was beautifully conceived and constructed, European in style (Baroque), and completed in 1797.  More than two hundred years later it bears the fond sobriquet, White Dove of the Desert.  One can see why.

A touch more history: San Xavier del Bac and much of the land that now comprises Southern Arizona (including the wonderfully scenic Sonoran Desert), became part of Mexico when that country won its independence from Spain in 1821.  In 1853 it was acquired by the United States—this country’s last territorial acquisition among the contiguous states.  Its purpose?  A southern route for a transcontinental railway.

It is indeed a White Dove of the Desert.

(Click on photos to get full image.  See the Photo page for additional images.)

One Response to White Dove of the Desert

  • It’s so beautiful. My mother was an agnostic, but we spent many Sunday mornings at San Xavier, eating fry bread cooked over mesquite fires, admiring the mission, and having our own kind of spiritual service. My favorite touches were the two little terra cotta animals. 🙂

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