On December 17, 2015, my husband and I visited the Mission San Xavier del Bac on the outskirts of Tucson. The church was white (hence its nickname “The White Church”) and was surrounded by desert gardens, a small museum and gift shop, and Native Americans selling fry bread.
Eavesdropping on a tour group (the last one of that day, which started at 12:30 – it was about 1 p.m. when we got there), I found out about a painting of the Last Supper on the wall. It is more fragile than wall paintings in European churches, the guide said, because in Europe the paint is absorbed into the wet plaster and becomes part of the plaster as it dries. In Arizona, the plaster dries too fast, so the painting is really on top of the plaster. What makes this painting unique and typical of its time, but not seen in most Last Supper depictions, are two elements: the head of the Devil can be seen in the lower right hand corner, although it is very difficult to pick out – it is black and blends into the dark background; and Judas is holding his bag of silver. These elements foreshadow events to come.
The church contained many carvings and murals of Jesus and various saints.
There was a creche, or Nativity scene, off to the side, which fascinated me. It was carved by an artist named Thomas Franco – I thought he probably is Native American because the figurines all have indigenous features. Their heads (at least Mary and Joseph) are overly large. Catholics don’t put the baby Jesus into the scene until Christmas Eve, so the hanging cradle was empty. There were other figures that also showed strong indigenous influence, also.
There were other statues and murals which contained both Native American and European influences.
At the altar:
San Xavier del Bac is an active congregation and there is also a school on the premises.
There was a small museum next to the church – only 2 rooms because the others were being renovated. The lady at the museum encouraged us to visit the gift shop, because the prices are more reasonable than other places, thanks to the priest, who insists on fair prices. She was right – afterward, we visited the so-called “Tohono O’odham Cultural Center” across the street, which was merely a group of shops facing a courtyard. The prices were quite a bit higher there for similar items.
Within the mission walls are courtyards and gardens.
Santa Rita prickly pear cactus turns purple when the weather is cold.
Outside the complex were several stands selling fry bread. We ordered from the Tohono O’odhams’ stand – probably all of them were Tohono but only one explicitly stated this and also had the cheapest plain fry bread. I had plain with salt, and Dale had honey and cinnamon.
A restroom is always a welcome sight!