The Mission San Xavier del Bac is breathtaking. Its brilliant white walls gleam against the sapphire desert sky, rising up high amongst the flat lands.
San Xavier was founded by Padre Eusebio Kino in 1692. Padre Kino was sent to Arizona by the Spanish to “pacify” the native Tohono O’odham people of Wa:k (today; Bac by non-natives) and gain their loyalty to Spain.
Padre Kino and his successor, Padre Espinosa, were Jesuits. However, in 1767, the Jesuits, or blackrobes, were ousted from Spain by the Franciscans (greyrobes), so San Xavier fell under Fransiscan rule until Wa:k became U.S. territory with the Gadsden Purchase in 1854.
This photo features the mission before 1900, possibly as early as the 1870s. Arthur notes that it looks like a barge. I like to imagine it in a parallel universe as one of many giant mission barges, proselytizing the seas.
Wa:k means “where the water emerges.” The museum at San Xavier describes the Tohono O’odham of Wa:k as having incorporated Christian principles into their traditions and beliefs, and remaining deeply Christian today.
The Tohono O’odham weave beautiful baskets from willow, beargrass, yucca, and devil’s claw, using the natural colors of the plants to form the patterns. They are sturdy as well as lovely and can even be woven water-tight.
Outside the mission sat a few stalls with food vendors, cooking fry bread in heavy cast iron skillets. The crisp, doughy circles are served topped with all kinds of savory stuff – beans, cheese, salsa, meat – or sweet, with cinnamon sugar or honey. We chose a simple dusting of powdered sugar and tore into it with our fingers, standing in the swathe of bare gravel before the mission.