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Mission San Xavier del Bac ~ Photos of National Historic Landmark on Indian Reservation in Tucson, Arizona

Arizona is a fabulous state filled with beauty and natural wonders. Amazing canyons (Grand!), mountains, and desert scenery await visitors.

Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona

Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson, Arizona

Vacationing in Arizona

There are countless places to visit when considering vacationing in the very scenic State of Arizona and after business meetings my husband and I have ventured off in different directions each time to see more of the State outside of the Capitol City of Phoenix.

One year we decided to head in a southerly direction and our primary goal was to see the Saguaro National Park which lies near Tucson and is divided into two distinct areas. Those iconic cactus plants with their outstretched arms were everything that I had expected to see (having seen them in photos for years) and more.

The Sonoran desert landscape containing the saguaros is amazing!

Sonoran Desert surrounding Mission San Xavier del Bac

Sonoran Desert surrounding Mission San Xavier del Bac


This land area which now includes the City of Tucson was occupied by early peoples (Paleo-Indians) more than 12,000 years ago according to historical evidence.

Hohokam Indians lived there from 600 AD to about 1450.

The Santa Cruz river that used to flow freely on a year round basis (but is mostly dry now) would have been a drawing factor for the Indians who farmed and used irrigation practices to hydrate their crops in this high desert environment.

Located 118 miles (188km) southeast of Phoenix and only 60 miles (98km) north of Mexico, Tucson is surrounded by mountains and sits at an elevation of 2,643 feet (728 meters) above sea level. In this sunny hot and dry climate, precautions should be taken because skin cancer is a perennial threat if sun exposure is too great.

Prior to becoming the State of Arizona, this land once belonged to Spain, then Mexico and finally became a territory of the U.S.

My husband and I did not have much time allotted for exploration of this second largest city in Arizona which is the home of the University of Arizona, but what we saw of it enticed us to want to make it a focal point for more vacation time someday.

Closeup photo of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Closeup photo of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Closeup photo of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Closeup photo of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Since we were so close to Tucson we decided to see some of that city. In those days we generally always consulted a Mobil Guide which listed local attractions as well as rating the different lodgings and restaurants and a prime attraction appeared to be the old and historic Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Also known as the White Dove of the Desert this historic church as well as the land upon which it is situated has an interesting history.

It is located 10 miles (16 km) south of the downtown area of Tucson on the Tohono O'odham San Xavier Indian Reservation.

A Jesuit by the name of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino was the first missionary to visit the Indians living in these parts. Construction of the first Christian church began in 1756 and it was a mud adobe structure.

At one point while under Spanish rule, the Jesuits were expelled by the King. This occurred in 1767. The original church was eventually destroyed by marauding Apache Indians.

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By 1783, Father Jean Bautista Velderrain (of the Franciscan order) began the construction process of the present beautiful church with the help of local Indian craftsmen as well as artisans from Mexico and it lasted until 1797 when the work was halted and services began to be held. The one tower was never completed whether on purpose or lack of funding and stands there today as it did at that time.

In 1821 this area became a part of the Republic of Mexico and after the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, it became a territory of the United States with the primary purpose of providing land area for construction of a transcontinental southern railroad linking the east coast to the west coast.

During the Civil War this was a part of the Confederacy.

 Mission San Xavier del Bac - Glistening white beauty amidst the surrounding desert scenery.

Mission San Xavier del Bac - Glistening white beauty amidst the surrounding desert scenery.

Historic church

Viewing the outside of this Moorish-styled Spanish colonial structure is amazing! I can see why it has the name "White Dove of the Desert."

Just as a white dove would show up against a backdrop of browns, beige's, and clay colors, this Mission San Xavier del Bac rises off of the Sonoran desert floor, glistening in the habitual sunshine. It is one of the finest examples of Mexican baroque architecture in the United States.

The beautifully carved mesquite wood doors and surrounding facade contrasting the white exterior invite visitors inside to see more of the glorious architecture and embellished furnishings.

Supposedly many of the carved statues came from Mexico. Combined with the gorgeous frescoes on the walls, every glance provides another visual feast for the eyes.

Lit candles flicker, and visitors are welcome to attend one of the daily masses or stroll through this Catholic church at other times of the day (from 7 AM to 5 PM) with few exceptions...those being private weddings or other such ceremonies. Most of the parishioners are residents of the San Xavier District of the Tohono O'odham Nation.

San Xavier del Bac became a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and became listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.

Interior photo of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Interior photo of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Indian Reservation

To help educate the Indians as well as take care of their spiritual needs, a Catholic parochial school was opened in 1872.

I found it interesting to know that the nuns who operate it now are the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity from Manitowoc, Wisconsin...the state of my birth and childhood home. When I attended parochial school in Okauchee, Wisconsin (prior to my parents moving to Texas) it was also Franciscan nuns who operated that school.

Fondly do I remember the head nun and principal, Sister Lucas, a tiny bit of a woman in that flowing habit who ruled that school with firmness but also with a sense of humor. She could throw balls and swing a mean bat with the best of her students on the playground. The school that my Dad helped to build had the nun's living quarters on the second floor above the classrooms. In the basement were common multi-purpose rooms.

If the Franciscan nuns are anything like the ones of my experience, the Indian reservation children probably love them dearly as I did and are getting an excellent education.

Area around Mission San Xavier del Bac

Area around Mission San Xavier del Bac

The Franciscan friars and priests who operate the Mission San Xavier del Bac would not have had the money to maintain this structural and historic beauty for the hundreds of years since its inception.

Fortunately interested parties from the outside stepped in and helped to preserve it and continue to do so today by way of a charitable organization.

Hopefully this will continue long into the future so that future generations of Indians on the reservation as well as visitors can continue to worship there as well as enjoy the splendor of this historic site.

When my husband and I were visiting there, there was no scaffolding enshrouding the towers while people were doing necessary repairs. I hope you enjoyed my photos of the Mission San Xavier del Bac and learned a bit about its most interesting history.

TV report regarding renovations and preservation of this mission.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are most welcome.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 20, 2015:

Hi peachpurple,

Actually this Mission San Xavier del Bac stands quite alone on the desert with not many other buildings surrounding it. It is a beauty!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 20, 2015:

san xavier has lots of historical beautiful white buildings, great introduction, voted up

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 26, 2013:

Hi Rajan,

It is a striking beauty set out on the desert like that. Hope that you get to visit the Mission San Xavier del Bac in person someday. Thanks!

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on July 25, 2013:

Interesting and beautiful is the Mission San Xavier del Bac. This hub makes me want to visit the place, Peggy.

Voted up, beautiful, shared here and on fb. Rated 5 stars as well.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 13, 2013:

Hi Aurelio,

It is a stunning beauty and so bright sitting out in the open as it does amidst that desert landscape. We have seen some missions in California also...nothing quite like this one. Thanks!

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on July 12, 2013:

I'm comparing this mission to the ones here in Southern California and this is far more ornate. The baroque facade reminds me of some of the churches I've seen down in Mexico. Voting this Up and Beautiful.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 24, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Thanks for pinning this hub about the beautiful Mission San Xavier del Bac to your travel board. It is certainly a strikingly beautiful building situated in the surrounding desert. Thanks also for the rest. :))

C E Clark from North Texas on June 23, 2013:

Fascinating place and beautiful photos. This really does look like a wonderful place to visit.

I know this hub is going to be just as popular on my "Travel" board as your hub about San Antonio and the one about Port Isabel. Yes, both of those have been re-pinned many times. Gave you 5 stars, voted up, BAUI, and will share with my followers.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 23, 2012:

Hello john000,

Thanks for your input as to the restoration that took place at the beautiful Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson. Glad that you enjoyed this hub.

John R Wilsdon from Superior, Arizona on January 23, 2012:

Hello Peggy

I used to live in Tucson and am only about 100 miles north now. San Xavier del Bac is a gorgeous example of Baroque architecture in the New World. Recently it underwent restoration to the tune of many millions of dollars. Stucco was repaired, sculptures and paintings cleaned, etc. Even experts on renovation from Italy came out to help with the project. It is more magnificent than ever. Folks should not miss it. Good hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 09, 2011:

Hi Judi,

Since I am a great lover of seeing our national parks, the Saguaro National Park just outside of the Tucson area would have lured me there. But there is much more to see in Tucson, obviously. Thanks for your visit to this hub about the Mission San Xavier del Bac which is one of the reasons to visit that southern city in Arizona and thanks for your comment.

Judi O from Texas on November 09, 2011:

Really enjoy this hub. I'd been to Phoenix many times, but never got to Tucson.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 07, 2011:

Hi Don,

So glad that you enjoy reading about the San Xavier del Bac mission. Will look forward to your writings about the California missions when you get around to it. Thanks for your comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on November 07, 2011:

Hi Peggy,

I have some books in my collection about the California missions.I plan to write about them sometime but haven't worked my way that far west yet. I recall seeing a film about Father Kino.There is something interesting about Spanish culture. I have two friends who had occasion to work in Spanish counties and they seem to fall in love with it.Your presentation is very good.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2011:

Hi Cheryl,

This Mission San Xavier del Bac really appears as a stark contrast against the desert floor as well as being beautiful. Thanks for taking the time to look at this hub and leave a comment.

Cheryl J. from Houston, TX on November 06, 2011:

A very beautiful and amazing church. I love the white towers and the dome of the Mission.

Great history to cherish of the Mission San Xavier del Bac. The atmosphere appears very calming. The hand made art and frescos on your photos and videos are really breathtaking. Thanks for sharing a great hub and a

valuable piece of history

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 06, 2011:

Hi Austinstar,

I had totally forgotten about your photo contest. I'm the winner? Wow! Thanks! :)))

Glad to hear that you enjoyed this hub about Mission San Xavier del Bac. Good luck to you also in this month's contest.

Lela from Somewhere near the heart of Texas on November 06, 2011:

Hi Peggy. Still showing us your awesome photography skills I see. BTW, I have listed you as a winner in the "killer ideas for your next photograph" contest and you should email me with your address so I can send your prize. Everyone loves the photo of the lizard, as do I. Good luck with the contest this month, and you are already a winner!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hi Gene,

We are a happy family of hubbers...although hubee also works. Ha! The Mission San Xavier del Bac is truly beautiful and it is true...building it back then it seems even more amazing. Thanks for your comment. :))

Gene Jasper on November 05, 2011:

Very familiar with the mission, Peggy and I agree it's not to be missed. Quite an accomplishment for it's day and beautifully designed. I recommend it your fellow hubees. Is that a word yet?


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hello Just History,

Parts of Arizona are lush and green and parts like this particular place...the Mission San Xavier del Bac in Tucson...are in high desert country. Thus Arizona has landscapes to suit almost everyone's idea of beauty. Thanks for your visit and comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on November 05, 2011:

Hi Charles,

Next time you head out of state, consult with me first. Haha! Perhaps you'll get back to Tucson sometime and will be able to see the Mission San Xavier del Bac; the Saguaro National Park and other sites of interest. Thanks for commenting. Really appreciate it!

Just History from England on November 05, 2011:

Wow! it looks so arid and just like we imagine from seeing films. I would love to go somehwere like that but I dont think for too long as I love the grass and greenery of home. Lovely hub, voted up

Charles criner on November 05, 2011:

Hello Peggy. As I told you before, I was just in Tuson. However, we went there for just an hour and then returned back to Houston. Your blob has given me more information than I got from the actual trip. If you had only completed this information a little sooner, I believe that I would have stayed longer to actually see some of the places that you documented.

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