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Fodor's Arizona & the Grand Canyon 2014
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac Review
The oldest Catholic church in the United States still serving the community for which it was built, San Xavier was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, who established 22 missions in northern Mexico and southern Arizona. The current structure was made out of native materials by Franciscan missionaries between 1777 and 1797, and is owned by the Tohono O'odham tribe.
The beauty of the mission, with elements of Spanish, baroque, and Moorish architectural styles, is highlighted by the stark landscape against which it is set, inspiring an early-20th-century poet to dub it the White Dove of the Desert.
Inside, there's a wealth of painted statues, carvings, and frescoes. Paul Schwartzbaum, who helped restore Michelangelo's masterwork in Rome, supervised Tohono O'odham artisans in the restoration of the mission's artwork, completed in 1997; Schwartzbaum has called the mission the Sistine Chapel of the United States. Mass is celebrated at 8:30 am Tuesday through Friday in the church, Saturday afternoon at 5:30, and three times on Sunday morning. Call ahead for information about special celebrations.
Across the parking lot from the mission, San Xavier Plaza has a number of crafts shops selling the handiwork of the Tohono O'odham tribe, including jewelry, pottery, friendship bowls, and woven baskets with man-in-the-maze designs.
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