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We were beside ourselves when saw that our long anticipated moment of experiencing the dramatic silhouette of Mission San Xavier was marred by a restoration project that covered half the mission.


San Xavier Del Bac — White Dove of the Desert

Mission San Xavier Del Bac, known as the "White Dove of the Desert" because the white adobe towers are said to resemble a hovering bird, is a place that has to be experienced to be believed. The interior is covered with religious imagery so flamboyant, beautiful and fanciful that it overwhelms the senses. Built over 200 years ago, the interior was embellished by the native Tohono O’odham. The Indian artisans communicated their own ideas of heaven in colorful imagery that feature clouds, flights of angels, animals and unexpected gore.

St Francis Xavier, patron saint of the mission takes center stage above the gilded main alter which has been refurbished and brightened to the point that the whole interior seems to jump and pulse with energy.

We were immediately struck by the Spanish-influenced arches and Byzantine-inspired gilded vaults.

Because there were limited resources, such as marble, glazed tile, fabric and wood, much of the ornamentation is trompe l’oeil. This simulated door matches a real door on the opposite wall.

The sheer volume and complexity of the ornate artwork was stunning.

We were glad we brought our binoculars so we could appreciated the exquisite detail of the painted fabrics … they truly looked authentic.

The paintings and figurines are considered among the country’s finest examples of folk art.

We didn’t count, but it’s reported that the interior contains over 300 images of angels and 50 religious statues.

The figure of Saint Fidelis stands with a knife implanted in his chest.

Birds and animals show up with apparent randomness through the church. For example the handles on the sanctuary door look like rattlesnakes posed to strike the little mouse.

The exterior is considered a masterpiece of the elaborate Baroque style architecture known as Churrigueresque … an elaborate Baroque style architecture usually found in Spain and Latin America in late 17th and 18th centuries.

Sculptural details such as the two lions drawn from the coat of arms of a Spanish ruling family and the Franciscan coat of arms are still evident, though the bright paint that originally adorned them has not survived. On the top right of the entrance a cat forever threatens a mouse on the left side (not visible due to the restoration). Sherry was captivated by the Indian legend that says if the cat ever catches the mouse it signals the end of the earth.

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