In 1692 Tucson, Arizona was in Spain. This was the ragged, contested and dusty New World frontier of Spain, but still very much a part of the Spanish empire. Just a few miles west of today’s downtown Tucson, the Spanish mission church of San Xavier del Bac is arguably the most impressive example of Spanish colonial architecture in North America.
The present mission church was begun in 1783 under the leadership of Franciscan missionary Father Juan Bautista Velderrain. With no budget to construct a church, Velderrain borrowed money from a local rancher, hired Mexican architect Ignacio Gaona, and enlisted a sizable workforce of O’odham native tribespeople.
Taking a cue from Baroque architectural style that swept Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, the interior of the church is undeniably ornate, but not lavish. Where a Spanish church would have expensive ceramic tiles, native workers painted tile-like patterns on the walls. Where a European church would hang religious oil paintings, the mission builders painted frescos—complete with faux frames. Mission San Xavier del Bac is truly a “folk baroque” blend of old world style and new world native elements.
The Mission Church of San Xavier del Bac has survived changes in government, from Spanish colonial rule, through Mexican independence, then American territorial rule and eventually Arizonian statehood.
The church was variously abandoned, damaged in an earthquake, and hit by lightening. Largely restored, the stark white mission church shines like a beacon in the Sonoran desert, attracting nearly 200,000 visitors each year.
1950 W San Xavier Rd, Tucson, AZ 85746
Mission open to public 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Museum and gift shop open 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Tours are offered every day except Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 or 1 p.m (number and times of tours vary by season).