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San Xavier Mission del Bac

Today’s Mission was built between 1783-1797. It is the oldest European structure in Arizona; in contrast the labor was provided by the O’odham. It’s also an outstanding example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States. San Xavier hosts some 200,000 visitors each year. It makes a cameo appearance in Cather’s novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop when it’s described by Fr Vaillant as “the most beautiful church on the continent, though it had been neglected for more than two hundred years.”

San Xavier Mission was established in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, founder of the chain of Spanish missions in the Sonoran Desert. Also a Jesuit of Italian descent, he often visited and preached in the area, then the Pimería Alta colonial territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Construction of the first mission church, about two miles from the site of today’s Mission, began on April 28, 1700, as noted in his diary:

On the twenty-eighth we began the foundations of a very large and capacious church and house of San Xavier del Bac, all of the many people working with much pleasure and zeal, some in digging for the foundations, others in hauling many and very good stones of tezontle from a little hill which was about a quarter of a league away. … On the twenty-ninth we continued laying the foundations of the church and of the house.

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