Saturday, January 16, 2010

Preferring Simplicity

We had spent a significant amount of time photographing the towers, domes, and overall architecture of Mission of San Xavier del Bac located in the San Xavier Indian Reservation about 10 miles south of Tucson.

The grandeur of the Mission's simple exterior (see yesterday's entry) led us to expect a similarly stark interior. After all, the church had been built in 1797.

However, . . .

What greeted us (we would later learn) were close to 300 painted or sculpted angels, more than 100 images of saints, and over a dozen representations of Santa Maria, mother of Christ.

It was a stunning welcome, yet somewhat disappointing. In the photo above, there was a 9'x 5' fresco of the Last Supper. Although faded and darkened by time (right), the work was beautiful and fit our expectations of an interior based on simplicity. In fact, had this been the only artwork in the church, it would have been sufficient.

Given our sense of being overwhelmed by all the artwork in the Mission, we were not surprised to learn that San Xavier has been called "The Sistine Chapel of the New World."

The paintings on the ceiling were beautiful, but just the architecture of the arches and domes alone was beautiful.

San Xavier’s interior was designed in the form of a Latin cross. To the left of the main altar is the west transept (below). In this chapel is a reclining statue of San Francisco Xavier, the main focus for pilgrims to the mission.

Statues of several saints are present, but I have not attempted to identify them, because it is hard to specify their location in the small photo. Also, I did not have an understanding of what the placements signified.

Similarly, in the east transept (to the right of the main altar), statues of several saints are present. The main focus is a statue of Mary (right).

The five statues above the main altar are: clockwise from the top, Mary, St. Paul, St. Andrew, St. Francis Xavier (bottom, center), St. Simon, and St. Peter.

At the very top of the altar is a statue representing God, his right hand raised in a blessing and his left hand resting on a globe of the world.

The next four photos are close-up photos of four of the six figures just mentioned.


St. Paul

St. Peter

God, looking down from the heavens.

Lastly, two life-size angels are hung on columns. They are clad in draperies made of canvas dipped in paint. Tradition has it that these are likenesses of the two daughters of the artist who decorated the interior.

This was a welcome personal touch within the complexity of the Mission's interior.

Beautiful, but the interior of Mission San Xavier del Bac seemed to overwhelm the simplicity of meditation.

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