We rounded a corner and, at first, the gleaming white building looked to us like the Taj Mahal. An instant later we recognized the Moorish-inspired structure looming over a sea of green as Mission San Xavier del Bac.
A short drive from downtown Tucson, Arizona, San Xavier stands as one of the most impressive missions we’ve visited in our tour of the Southwest. Its seemingly spotless white façade is a distinct contrast to the more ancient look of the San Antonio Missions. And its ornate architecture sets it apart from the simpler structures we found on El Paso’s Mission Trail.
Even as we marveled at San Xavier’s exterior, it didn’t prepare us for what awaited us inside. Beyond the massive and elegantly carved mesquite-wood doors, lies a richly decorated sanctuary of wood and gold and vibrant color. Statues and carvings and frescos, combining elements of Spanish and Native American heritage, vie for your attention. Marbling and theatrical curtain displays add a richness and sense of drama. But despite all the busyness of its Baroque decoration, San Xavier also achieves the calming sense of balance appropriate for a functioning house of worship.
San Xavier also operates a small free museum with several artifacts on display and a 20 minute video describing the Mission’s history. The museum is open daily from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm and the Mission Church is open 7:00 am – 5:00 pm, but check their website for a current schedule.