Located in nearby Tucson, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a Spanish Catholic mission dating from 1692 when it was founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a Jesuit missionary. At the time the area was an Indian village, and Kino was the first non-Indian to visit the place, which was then known as Wa:k (although he wrote “Bac,”). It is he who called for the construction of the church, named in honor of San Francisco Xavier; however, the church needed to be rebuilt after 1770 due to destruction from Apache attacks.
Because at this time Spanish Jesuits were banned from the Americas, it was rebuilt under the eye of the Franciscans. This is a unique facet of Mission San Xavier del Bac, as it’s one of the few Arizona missions still led by Franciscans, with mass still taking place. Additionally, the church is touted as the oldest European structure in Arizona still intact, and often the country’s best example of Spanish Colonial architecture.
As soon as you arrive at the site, you’ll understand why it’s known as the “White Dove of the Desert.” The structure is done in white adobe with a sand-colored ornate entrance, which appears striking against the cacti-filled desert landscape. Inside, original statuary, frescos and sculptures bring history to life with such beauty even non-religious visitors can appreciate it. In fact, the artwork is a highlight of a visit. It is recommended to take a tour with a docent -- which typically take place 9:30am, 10:30am 11:30am and 12:30pm, although call first to confirm -- to really grasp the history of the mission and understand what you’re looking at in the church and museum areas. Before leaving, light a prayer candle and browse the gift shop for a momento of your trip.