Exterior of the Mission. Photo: https://www.gonewiththewynns.com/San-Xavier-Bac-AZ

San Xavier Mission was founded in 1692 as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino. About 10 miles from Downtown Tucson, the mission is a Historic Landmark and located on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. Construction of the church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. It was named for Francis Xavier, a Christian missionary.

Shortly after the church was complete, it was destroyed by an Apache tribe. The current church is the oldest European structure in Arizona and takes in over 200,000 visitors a year and is considered the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.


One of the oldest known photos of the Mission.

San Xavier Mission was founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1962.  He was a Jesuit and began construction of the first mission church on April 28, 1700. In 1767, Charles III of Spain banned the Jesuits from the Spanish lands in America and installed Franciscans to be in charge of the mission. After Apache attacks, the mission was rebuilt between 1783 and 1797 by fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz. The way these men were able to afford to rebuild the church is by using money donated by Sonoran ranchers. Because of all of the local support Juan Bautista Velderrain, and Juan Bautista Llorenz were able to hire the  architect Ignacio Gaona and a large work force of O'odham to create the present church.

After the Independence of Mexico in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. In 1854, following the Gadsden Purchase, San Xavier became part of U.S. rule and part of Arizona Territory. In 1866, Tucson became an incipient diocese and services began at the mission regularly.

In 1872, Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school for the Tohono O’odham children and the building was repaired. In 1887, and earthquake knocked the mortuary wall and destroyed parts of the mission itself. Repairs began in 1905 under Bishop Henry Granjon. In 1978 a group of community leaders formed the Patronato San Xavier which promotes the conservation of the mission. The preservation continues to this day when funds are available. Donations can be made by contacting [email protected].

The Franciscans returned in 1913 and recently, the mission became a separate non-profit entity. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity have taught and still teach at the school since 1872 and reside in the Mission convent.


Interior of the Mission. Photo: http://www.ontheroadagainforyou.com/san-xavier-mission-del-bac-corona-de-guevavi-tubac/

The mission is constructed with clay brick, stone and lime mortar. The roof is structured with masonry vaults. The architect of the current mission was Ignacio Gaona. The interior is full of paintings, frescoes, statues and carvings with displays of New Spain and Native America art and motifs.

There is not much known about the people who decorated, but it is believed to commissioned by Father Velderrain’s successor. Although the exact artists of the interior are unknown, there are symbols and architecture styles that can give some insight into the history of the design. Images of seashells, which can be seen all throughout the missions window treatments and other detailed interior elements, are a symbol of pilgrimage in relation to the voyage the patron saint of Spain, Santiago or James the Greater made. Also, the architecture contains elements seen throughout the Baroque era that involve dramatic yet playful elements. These elements include: faux doors, marbling, theatrical curtain displays, and an overall sense of symmetry and balance.

The mission is considered the finest example of Spanish mission architecture in the U.S. and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

Photo: http://thegenealogysearch.blogspot.com/2010/11/wordless-wednesday-almost-san-xavier.html

The Restoration

In 1887 an Earthquake knocked down the mortuary wall and also damaged other parts of the church. Because of these damages, extensive repairs were needed. In 1905, Bishop Henry Granjon thought it was time for the church to finally be fixed. The Church also saw a need for repairs in 1939 when a lightning strike hit the Western Tower Lantern.

In 1978 a group of community leaders decided they wanted to create a conservation group for Mission San Xavier. They called this group the Patronanto San Xavier. Shortly after this group was formed however this mission saw more problems. Water was seeping into the west wall of the church's sanctuary, and because of this the Patronanto were forced to take action. It took five years for the Patronanto to finish but when they did the Misson San Xavier was almost as good as new.



The mission is still run by the Franciscans and still serves the Native community by whom it was built. The church is open to the public daily with the exception of church services. The mission is very important to the Tucson community because of its rich history. This type of Spanish colonial architecture is not common in the United States so the mission is a very important landmark. The mission itself has had its fair share of damage and the restoration of the church continues today and is very important. According to the mission’s website, the mission remains a testament to the endurance of culture throughout its history. 

Sources: http://www.sanxaviermission.org