Occasionally Chasing Santa Fe travels...hence the post on this gorgeous church just outside Tucson, Arizona.  C. Whitney-Ward

W H I T E   D O V E  .  O F  .  T H E  .  D E S E R T

As you drive along the highway -  ten miles south of Tucson - a magnificent white mission church appears mirage-like out of nowhere.  Its Mexican Baroque facade beckons, and as you drive towards this wonder -  tucked onto the Tohono O'odham San Xavier Indian Reservation - you're transported back in time to the 18th century.

This marvelous church was built between 1783 and 1797 by a large workforce of O'odham Indians under the direction of Franciscan missionaries. The architect -Ignacio Gaona -  was brought up from Mexico as was a painter and sculptor, whose names have been lost over time.  

By 1797 there were only enough funds to complete one of the bell towers; the east tower was never built. All work stopped and the church opened its doors for services. But the entire church - exterior and interior - has been beautifully restored, and when you step inside, every surface is carved and painted and you will feel amazement and awe.

The ceilings soar and are filled with richly-painted imagery.

Boldly - carved angels and saints surround and stand watch. Every conceivable inch is swathed in beauty. A large number of the religious statues  were created in guild workshops and brought to the mission from Mexico. 

The simplest renderings in the church are the understated crosses representing the stations of the cross.

The scalloped wooden pews are striking when juxtaposed against
the stunning graphics along the walls...

When you peer down the aisle, the ornate altar  with its large portrait
of St. Francis Xavier takes center stage.

And candles are everywhere; integral to this holy place.

Every detail is remarkable and a tribute to the original architect, artist, sculptor and O'odham laborers who collaborated on this captivating church.


1950 W. Xavier Road - Tucson, AZ

For information on the ongoing restoration project -