Wednesday, February 10, 2010


About 40 miles south of Tucson is Mission San José de Tumacácori, which was established as a mission by Father Kino in 1691.

The mission was more than a church; it was a community for converting the natives (the O'odham) to Christianity. It had housing for the O'odham and the priest, workshops, class rooms, a cemetery, a chapel and an irrigation system for gardens, orchards, and grazing lands.

It did not have a church until 1757. Construction on the present church began in 1800, and use of the church began in 1822. The white dome marks the sanctuary, the Baptistry is to the right of the front of the church, and the bell tower is above the Baptistry.

The ruin to the right in the photo below was once the convento, or priests' quarters; after abandonment, it was used as a residence by various peoples and also as a schoolhouse. Thirty miles in the distance are the Santa Rita Mountains where limestone was quarried for use in plastering the church and trees were harvested for roof construction.

The bell tower arches at Tumacácori National Historical Park, although appearing to be in a state of ruin, are almost in exactly the same condition as when the church was abandoned in 1848, never having been completed.

There are faint signs of the original colors on the church's facade, but the original appearance must have been quite striking. The columns were painted red, the statue niches blue, and other areas yellow with black markings.

There was beauty in the barren nave. There were no pews; people stood or knelt during the services. Lining the walls are four side altars, and a pulpit is shown just to the right of the steps leading to the sanctuary.

When the church was abandoned in 1848, the roof was removed; settlers probably used the original timber for constructing other buildings. Although the roof was replaced three times, the nave was exposed to the elements for over 60 years.

In addition, the holes in the walls indicate where fortune hunters looked for a treasure that never existed.

The paintings and stenciling on the walls and domed ceiling are faded, but the outline of the altar is still visible.

We wondered what the singing of the priest and choir member in the loft at the far end of the nave must have sounded like in this church.

This entryway leading to the Bapistry shows the size of the adobe bricks made from soil, water, and stones. The walls are nine feet thick in order to support the massive bell tower above.

This is a portion of the Granary. Here fruits and meats were dried in the desert sun and stored in baskets and clay pots.

The mission was a communal system of growing, collecting, and distributing the food stored here.

The mission is a frequent subject for artists and photographers.

While the church presented a structure ideal for these media, there was a solitude and meditative quality present that could not be captured through words or artistry.

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