Widely considered to be one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States, Mission San Xavier del Bac is located nine miles south of Tucson, Arizona and is over a hundred years older than the state in which it resides.

In fact, it’s the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, attracting over 200,000 yearly visitors. San Xavier was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692 and construction of the current church began in 1783 when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. While the 229-year-old church is young compared to its European cousins, its had quite the history. San Xavier once belonged to Mexico following the Mexican independence in 1821, then became part of the U.S. with the Gadsden Purchase of 1854. It has survived an earthquake as well as being struck by lightning. Currently its restorations are managed by an international community of preservationists, Patronato San Xavier.

Today, locals still come to say their prayers to Saint Francis and children attend it’s K-8 school, San Xavier Mission School, run by the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.

While its backdrop is the Sonoran Desert, upon entering the church you not only step back in time to the 18th century but instantly feel as if you’re in a small Spanish village. It’s a quiet sanctuary away from the commotion of the city.

The breath-taking church was designed by architect Ignacio Gaona and built by a large workforce of the Arizona’s Tohono O’odham tribe. It’s constructed of low-fire clay brick, stone and lime mortar. Although little is known about who decorated the interior, we do know that its sculptures were created in guild workshops and carried by donkey through the Pimería Alta to San Xavier.

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Alexa Blair, creator of Gallivant, blogs about her insatiable travel appetite, fervor for fashion and fascination with the art of makeup. With her experience as a journalist, freelance MAC Makeup Artist and travel addict, she provide tips and tricks on her blog, Twitter and Facebook that will let you live the life of a professional gallivanter without ever even having to board a plane!

  • http://www.wanderingnotlost.org/ Kate

    Can’t believe I passed right by this church and decided not to stop! Dumb travel move of the month. I did, however, spend a couple days in the Tohono O’odham rez, including one of their little mission churches. Here’s the first of the series: http://www.wanderingnotlost.org/2011/01/tohono-oodham-people-of-the-desert/ 

    Thanks for the post. If I’m ever back that way…

    • Alexa Miller

      Yes, you definitely should have stopped! Next time… However, I’ve never been to the Tohono Oodham reservation– I love your coverage of it!

  • Flora Moreno de Thompson

    I think I’ve been here before as a kid. I used to spend summers in Arizona with my godparents and the photos look very familiar.

  • Heidi

    Such an amazing structure! I’ve passed by this a few times but had no idea its history was so intense! What a cool article :)

  • Dianne

    As I read this article I found myself drifting into the Mission: The feel, the smells, the sounds, the peace and quiet. Can’t wait to visit!

  • Ets

    Was so impressed with this article that while friends and family were visiting from out of town I recommended they spend some time their while sightseeing in southern Arizona. Without this article I am not sure they would have stopped. They were glad they did.

  • Kim

    Having lived in Arizona most of my life, I embarrassed to say I have never heard of this place. However, after reading this article I am definitely heading down to see it. It looks and sounds amazing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eric.1.roberts Ricky Bobbie

    Wow that is a pretty church!

  • George

    Very interesting. Could picture myself there and now I want to visit. Thanks Alexa.

  • karen miller

    I have been to this beautiful church and never knew any of it’s history until reading this article. It truly is a “White Dove” in the desert. A fitting title for an excellent article – I hope to see more like this.

  • MikeyB

    Didn’t know about this place until now, I’m definitely going to take a roadtrip there.

  • Monica Carpentieri

    Great article! I really want to visit the mission of San Xavier del Bac!

  • P

    carried by donkie! wow this article really brings the church and the pictures present to life! can’t wait to go visit this place :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/claudine.mccarthy.14 Claudine McCarthy

    Fascinating read, great imagery, felt like I was there, made me want to go there…..excellent balance of historical background & current day interest!