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.