Although I am not a religious person myself, I always enjoy and appreciate the opportunity to explore all manner of cathedrals, churches, missions, synagogues, mosques, temples and shrines of various faiths, since the architecture, art and history represented therein tell fascinating and important stories about the existence and progression of humanity worldwide. As such, there are three Roman Catholic Missions, all still active, that are my favorites in the American West.
The Mission San Xavier del Bac, on the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation is just south of Tucson. Founded by the famed Jesuit Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, the present church was constructed between 1783 and 1797 by Franciscan missionaries. Although the Franciscans were forced to depart the reservation in 1828, they returned in 1911 and have continued to maintain the facility as the principal church and school of the Tohono O’odham people now for over a century.
As one of the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture, its particularly beautiful carvings, murals, arches, domes and flying buttresses make it one of the most unique and impressive in the Southwest. Surely a Tucson “must,” the complete visit to San Xavier includes a museum, video presentation and self-guided tour.