Entertainment Magazine: Tucson: Tucson History

The San Xavier Mission -

The "White Dove of the Desert"

San Xavier del Bac Tucson ArizonaBy Danielle Crounse
Entertainment Magazine

In the vast desert on an Indian reservation just nine miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, one would not expect to find a beautiful church. The San Xavier del Bac Mission.

Following the signs from the highway directs you toward Mission San Xavier (pronounced as "hauv-e-air") del Bac, you approach this majestic "White Dove of the Desert" (as it is affectionately called). It is truly an awesome experience. The sheer size and bright color against a blue sky and the tan colors of the desert make San Xavier Mission a striking sight.

The San Xavier del Bac Mission was built between 1783 and 1797 by the Tohono O'odham tribe, under the direction of Spanish Franciscans. The mission opened Tucson's first public school in Nov. 7, 1864. The Mission was created to serve the needs of the local community, the village of Wa:k (San Xavier District) on the Tohono O'odham reservation, southwest of Tucson, Arizona.

San Xavier Mission Story


Mission San Xavier del Bac is located southwest of Tucson, Arizona. This Spanish mission founded in 1692 is also commonly known by the nickname of the "Sistine Chapel of America."

The Church sits on 14 acres deeded to the Roman Catholic diocese of Tucson from an original grant signed in 1910 by President William Taft.

San Xavier Mission del Bac in Tucson, Arizona 1902

Photo above: San Xavier del Bac from the book "Tucson, Arizona" 1902.

Reconstruction of the San Xavier Mission

The new scaffolding will be in place for the next three years while the San Xavier Mission continues it restoration. Restoration work is paid with funds raised by Patronato San Xavier, a local non profit group. The restoration of the church sanctuary began in 1992 and was finished in 1997.

To make a donation towards the restoration of the mission visit Patronato San Xavier. Patronato San Xavier is a not-for-profit, 501(c)(3), and donations to San Xavier's preservation are fully tax deductible.

San Xavier Museum and Gift Shop

There is a museum at the Mission that explains more about this history with artifacts on display. Listen to a 20 minute video which talks about the history of the Mission and its restoration.

Walk through the museum and look at the artifacts to get a sense of the history and the way people lived at the Mission. The San Xavier del Bac museum is free and open to the public. There are some donation boxes to help  provide for its upkeep. The museums hours are: 8:30am - 4:30pm daily.

The San Xavier Mission Gift shop with various items about the Mission San Xavier from t-shirts to authentic Tohono O'odham baskets made right here on the reservation. The gift shops hours are from 8:00am - 5:00pm daily (holiday hours may vary).

Books on San Xavier Mission and History

From Amazon: Mission San Xavier del Bac: A Guide to Its Iconography is the first study of the iconography at San Xavier since its restoration in the 1990s by an international team of professional conservators. It expands our understanding of the numerous Catholic images and emblems of San Xavier through a close analysis of the newly revealed iconographic elements and an interpretation of its significance.

From Amazon: A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac (Southwest Center Series) Bernard Fontana— the leading expert on San Xavier— and award-winning photographer Edward McCain team up to publish a comprehensive view of the mission as never seen before. 200 stunning full-color photographs and incisive text illuminating the religious, historical, and the motivational context of these images. 

From Amazon:  Treasures of the Santa Catalina Mountains: Unraveling the Legends and History of the Santa Catalina Mountains, includes the famous legend of the Iron Door Mine, a forgotten mission and a lost city somewhere in the Catalinas. The legends have lured prospectors and treasure hunters for hundreds of years. The discoveries of early Spanish placer mining sites, stone ruins and stories of the mountains, only fueled speculation about the riches still left behind. Read more about the lost legends of the Santa Catalinas.

Mission San Xavier del Bac Tucson, Arizona

1950 W. San Xavier Road
Tucson, Arizona 85746-7409
[email protected]

The San Xavier Mission is located west of Interstate I-19, about 6 miles south of I-19 and I-10 interchange.

Open everyday: 8am-5pm
Sunday Masses Summer 2010 Schedule is: 7:00, 8:30, 10:00 and 11:30 am

© 1996-2023 EMOL.org. Tucson Entertainment Magazine. All rights reserved.
This section may not be reproduced, copied or electronically stored
without written permission from the publisher.
Not affiliated with San Xavier del Bac Mission. This section is provided for information by Entertainment Magazine.