Monday, February 13, 2017

Tumacacori & San Xavier, AZ (1/31 & 2/1/2017)

In 1691, a Jesuit priest named Eusebio Francisco Kino was sent into the Sonoran Desert to establish missions and convert the savages to Christianity.  Within a year, missions were founded in both Tumacacori and San Xavier, homes to different tribes of the Tohono O'odham Indians, also referred to as Pima Indians by the Spanish.  More on that later.

Construction of a church and associated structures began in 1692 in Tumacacori, resulting in the compound shown in an artist rendering below.
Attacks by hostile Indians led to the development of the presidio at Tubac around 1751, but the Jesuits continued to occupy Tumacacori for some time. In 1767, the King of Spain expelled the Jesuits from his realm, so the Franciscan order took over. After many years of attacks and other hardships, the mission was abandoned around 1848.  The site became part of the United States in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase.  The Tumacacori National Historic Park was started in 1908 to preserve the remains of the mission and educate Americans about the history of the region.

Land around Tumacacori must be much the same as it was in  1691, minus the hostile Indians.
Modern structures support the park's staff and visitors.
However, the real attraction is the remainder of the original church and its outbuildings.

 The Park Service will only repair the buildings, nothing is done to restore them to their original appearance.
The cemetery still holds the remains of the early occupants who died there.

The Mission San Xavier Del Bac was also founded by Father Kino, shortly after Tumacacori, but the church on the site wasn't begun until 1783.  It took fourteen years to complete.  It is considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture still surviving in the U. S. today.  The San Xavier tribe loves the church and works hard to maintain it.  It is an active parish and they welcome visitation without charge.  It is lovingly called "the white dove of the desert.
This was my third visit to the mission, so I didn't bother to photograph inside the church this time.  However, I'll share a few photos from my 2014 visit.

Each time I come here, I stop for a sweet fry bread sold by locals on the church grounds.  It's always interesting to chat with them, as well.

Unlike previous visits, I made a point this time to return for sunset, and again the next morning for sunrise.

While making a purchase at the church gift shop, I chatted with the two ladies running the shop that day.  They told me a cute story, allowing they weren't sure if it's true.

When the Jesuits first encountered the Tohono O'odham tribe, they asked "What is your tribal name?"  The Indians said "Pimas", which meant "I don't know", or "I don't understand the question".  The Jesuits thereafter referred to the Indians as the Pima tribe and the name stuck, even with the Indians.  Today, the name Pima has been used extensively for a variety of things, such as Pima County, Pima College, etc, etc.  All because of misunderstanding by the Indians and Jesuits in 1692.


  1. Since the Tohono O'odham tribe was obviously from Ireland, the Jesuits should have asked them their name in Celtic. :) :)

  2. I've been there . . a lovely place . . San Xavier was under restoration and covered with scaffolding . . glad to see how beautiful it is now

    1. Too bad they could only afford to re-do part of the building. They are saving now to finish the job.