If you are a history buff, you know that in the west, unlike along the eastern seaboard or New England, you don’t see many historic sites chronicling European exploration with dates in the early 1600s or early 1700s.
One of the first Spanish missionaries to visit the west, Father Kino visited the O’odham community of Wa:k (Bac), south of what is now Tucson, in 1692. Though he attempted to build a rustic church as early as 1700, Father Alonso Espinosa began building the first church of any substance in 1756 and Father Francisco Garces arrived in 1768 as its first minister.
The current structure, though added to and rebuilt over the years, was begun in 1776 and wasn’t completed until 1797. It is an outstanding example of Spanish baroque architecture, with elegant arches, domes, twin bell towers (one left unfinished), and inside a priceless collection of Mexican baroque art, frescoes, and wooden carvings.
An ongoing process of restoration begun in the early 1990s is returning some of the luster to the 200-year-old art.
San Xavier’s dazzling white walls have given it the name “The White Dove of the Desert,” and it still serves the Tohono O’odham today with daily masses.
Photography is permitted when services are not in progress. Drive nine miles south of Tucson on I-19 and take exit 92. Turn west for one mile. The church is open daily 8AM to 6PM. Admission is free and donations are accepted.
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