Totally free of charge and conducted on Mondays beginning at 9:30 a.m., docents are now available to tour you around the museum and the chapel at San Xavier del Bac.
Today’s docent, Annette Hoopes, was very accommodating and extremely knowledgeable. She happily entertained questions even though it ended up running over the one hour that was allotted for the tour.
This National Historic Landmark was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692 according to the pamphlet produced by the Patronato San Xavier, a body responsible for maintaining the funding for the site. Construction of the current church began in 1783.
San Xavier is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona. Once part of New Spain, the church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of the parishioners.
Interestingly, according to some evidence, the Native people welcomed the conversion to Catholicism. Even during a time in history when they could have chosen differently, they remained with the Catholic faith. This seems to be a contrast to most conversion situations where it was forced on unwilling participants.
The name Wa:k is the older name of the people known today as the Tohono O’odham. Wa:k was then translated to the Spanish “Bac”.
Annette spoke of the importance of and changes in the water table. The mission was built near what once was the life giving Santa Cruz River. A participant of today’s tour, Martin DeSoto, who happened to be a native Tucsonan, remembered that as a young boy in the late 1950s, there was still a river with flowing water. The stories that were told to him indicated that mines had a lot to do with the water being diverted as well as the tremendous growth that Tucson experienced over the past 30 years. These two main reasons effectively spelled the end of the river. Martin indicated that his well is drilled to 250 feet and there is no more water. Seeing this beautiful structure out in the middle of what appears to be virtually nowhere reminds one of the importance of water in the building of a culture.
The mission receives some but very little money from the Catholic Church and is one of the poorest missions in its region. There is no fee to visit, but donations are gladly accepted.
One way to donate is to buy a beeswax candle from the museum office for $3.00. Beeswax does not give off the soot that can harm the beautiful paintings and statuary.
All of this money goes into maintaining a truly magnificent structure that is a house of worship for some and a place to explore the amazing history that is part of Tucson for others.