Not far southwest of downtown Tucson you’ll find Mission San Xavier del Bac, informally known as The White Dove. You can see why from this opening photo showing the main part of the church. Although we’ve lived in Arizona since March of 2020, last Saturday was our first visit to a place my dad used to urge us to go and considering this wasn’t the sort of place I realized he enjoyed, that was a huge endorsement.

We pulled up about half an hour after the church opened and before most other people arrived, my favorite time to visit almost anywhere. 🙂 As we drove down the highway, we could see a group of white buildings from a distance but the true magnificence only became apparent when we arrived on the opposite side of the enormous open area in front of the mission.

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. Using money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher and designed by a Spanish architect, the villagers from Wa:k, part of the Tohono O’odham Nation, helped build the church from sand, lime, clay, rock and wood. They built kilns, dug trenches, and and whatever else needed doing and work continued for 16 years until the money ran out.

The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners. (From the church website)

You might be forgiven for thinking you’re in a European Spanish or Portuguese church when you see the interior. This view is from the front of the church (at least as far as we could go) looking back towards the entrance.

Eventually building resumed and numerous additions, such as classrooms, rooms for the housing of clergy, defense against attacks, and so forth, were make, creating the beautiful structures we saw last weekend. The enclosed figure in the photo below is San Francisco Xavier, the patron saint of Father Kino and source of the church’s name.

Another thing reminiscent of a European church was the ongoing restoration, which kept us from fully seeing and appreciating the beauty of the sanctuary. But don’t despair! If you click here, you’ll be taken to a 360 degree view of the entire magnificent interior of the church and trust me, it’s well worth the minute or two of your time. It was frustrating not to be able to see the entire area even with the scaffolding and there’s no way of knowing how long the work will take.

But I did get a peek at a bit of the area to the left of the main sanctuary.

The work of repairing and maintaining the church continues along with the costs. Thankfully the emphasis is on using traditional materials and a local apprenticeship program allows opportunities for members of the community to train and learn skills in conservation and related trades. Last year the school had to close due to both low enrollment and lack of staff. There’s still a gift shop and a museum, the latter closed at this time. The Mission is considered one of the most culturally significant at-risk buildings in the world.

All that being true, it’s the feeling of awe that I got when entering the church that was most real. The beauty, love, and time put into glorifying God is apparent and heartfelt. That the native community was deeply involved in the construction and still worships there on Sundays is wonderful. Whatever some might believe about the motivation and methods of the Catholic Church in its ministry to native people (and there’s nothing I could see here that read like subjugation), the glory of God has eclipsed that and shone through. If you are ever in this area, you won’t be sorry if you take time to visit, checking in advance for service times during which the church isn’t open for visiting but certainly is open for worship. Visiting is free but donations or purchases in the gift shop are not only welcome but go towards keeping The White Dove flying for years to come.

Jo might feel at home in this church, so it’s fitting that it’s part of her morning walk this week. Jo, thanks for hosting this enjoyable walk through many parts of the world! It’s always a joy.

  1. restlessjo says:

    I’m so taken with the exterior stonework, Janet. It’s such a beautiful contrast. If I lived in the area I’d be happy to go and work there as a volunteer, so thanks a lot for showing me around. Have a wonderful week!

  2. Ally Bean says:

    Beautiful building but not what I’d expect to find in AZ. The ornate details and the shape of the church looks European, yet the blue sky above screams AZ to me. What a wonderful place to visit. Thanks for taking us along.

  3. beth says:

    I was here, and it was incredibly beautiful

  4. Tish Farrell says:

    So stunning those white towers against the blue. And so much to restore inside.

  5. That is an amazing piece of architecture. Down the road from us, they are building a bland three story storage facility. In order to do that there are cranes, trucks, and every type of tool and piece of equipment the army of workmen need. Those craftsmen showed up with their hands and hearts with a few hand tools and were able to create this unbelievable monument to their beliefs. Talented, tough, and focused.

    • It really is amazing, Judy. It reminded me so much of churches I’d seen in Europe. I made me especially happy to read that people are still worshiping there. So many churches in Europe are gorgeous but have very few attending services. That misses the point of church completely!

  6. That was an incredibly beautiful tour, Janet.

    • Thanks, Madison. The main part of the church is beautiful in a simple way and the sanctuary is over-the-top beautiful. 🙂 I hope you took the virtual tour as well.

  7. It looks gorgeous. The virtual 360 tour was worth the extra minute.

  8. scr4pl80 says:

    Gorgeous. I used to go visit the missions up and down California with my parents when I was younger. That was our Sunday drive.

  9. tootlepedal says:

    What a wonderful building, inside and out. I hope that it survives.

  10. Jodie says:

    Gosh, it was so cool to see the inside. When we were there last May, we got there too late, and couldn’t get in.

  11. Such an amazing place. So much detail to see! Really beautiful.

  12. What a beautiful place! I don’t know if I’ll ever travel out that way but I can enjoy it through your lovely pictures.

  13. Nancy says:

    Thanks for the incredible tour! I also clicked on the 360 tour. Wow, I’m so glad I did!
    The beautiful details inside and out are unbelievable as it was built so long ago and it’s still in such wonderful shape.
    This is now a “must do” for us. Thanks for sharing.

    • I’m happy to share, Nancy. If you go to the rock and gem show, it’s not far away. The 369 tour is wonderful and I enjoyed it too as we couldn’t really see the sanctuary very well.

  14. Prior... says:

    I will make sure we visit this beautiful place and enjoyed learning that the Mission is considered one of the most culturally significant at-risk buildings in the world

  15. […] think you also sensed that many folks really missed the walks. And i knew it was back again because I saw posts coming up – lke Janet’s here. I am glad you started the walk challenge again. Readers can find out more about Jo’s Monday […]